Sir Gavin has voiced “regret” for the expletive-laden texts sent to Wendy Morton, complaining at his exclusion from the congregation for the funeral of the Queen.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer today said he was “clearly not suitable” for his job in the Cabinet Office, calling his appointment a sign of how “weak” Mr Sunak is.
At a regular Westminster media briefing today, Mr Sunak’s official spokesperson refused to discuss reports that Conservative chair Sir Jake Berry had warned him not to give the former education secretary a government job until Ms Morton’s complaint had been dealt with.
The PM was aware that a complaint had been made at the time of the appointment, but had not been told the content of the messages, said the spokesperson.
The spokesperson said that Mr Sunak took a “zero tolerance” approach to bullying within government,But asked whether the PM had “full confidence” in Sir Gavin, he replied: “Yes.”
The PM’s spokesperson said he was not aware of fresh allegations that Sir Gavin as chief whip discussed a female MP’s private life in a way which she interpreted as a threat.
“If there was a formal complaint, that would be considered very seriously,” he added.
Pressed on why Sir Gavin is still in post if Mr Sunak views the texts he sent as unacceptable, the spokesperson said: “There is a process going on… The prime minister has said that it’s right to let that process happen.
“He welcomes that Gavin Williamson has expressed regret about those comments, which he doesn’t think are acceptable.”
The spokesperson said Mr Sunak felt Sir Gavin had “an important contribution to make to government”.
Although the government’s website lists no official responsibilities for the minister without portfolio, the spokesperson said he was playing a role in “cross-government co-ordination”, and would be working on the Great campaign to promote Britain overseas.
In his messages to Ms Morton in September, Sir Gavin angrily accused her of seeking to “punish” MPs like him who were out of favour with Liz Truss by excluding them from the Queen’s funeral.
The exchange of texts, obtained by the Sunday Times, concluded with him saying: “Well let’s see how many more times you f*** us all over. There is a price for everything.”
Mr Williamson has said: “I, of course, regret getting frustrated about the way colleagues and I felt we were being treated. I am happy to speak with Wendy and I hope to work positively with her in the future as I have in the past.”
Shapps says Williamson ‘not right’ to send allegedly abusive texts to former chief whip
Business secretary Grant Shapps said it was “absolutely right” that the texts were being investigated.
“I think he must have been in a moment of frustration that I’m sure he regrets very deeply,” Mr Shapps told LBC.
“It’s completely inappropriate to send messages like that under any circumstances, frustration or otherwise. It’s absolutely right that’s been looked into.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said it was “so disappointing that yet again we’re having a discussion about the prime minister’s judgment, this time in relation to Gavin Williamson”.
Sir Keir told broadcasters: “He’s clearly got people around the cabinet table who are not fit to be there. That is because he was so weak and wanted to avoid an election within his own party.”
Asked if he was calling for Mr Williamson to be fired, the Labour leader said: “I think that the prime minister has got people who are clearly not fit for the job around the cabinet table.”
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “Different prime minister, same old Conservative sleaze.
“If Rishi Sunak, had any sense of public duty, he would sack Gavin Williamson now. In any other workplace, someone who behaved as he did would have been rightly dismissed for gross misconduct.
“Instead Williamson is being let off the hook by a prime minister happy to let his integrity be brought into question on a daily basis. Every day Williamson remains in his post is an insult to the decent hard-working people across the country.”