As Britain adjusts to its third prime minister in as many months, the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak's cabinet is already facing its first scandal. Sunak faced pressure from members of parliament on Wednesday after Cabinet minister, Sir Gavin Williamson, was forced to resign over accusations of abusive behavior towards his colleagues. It is only Sunak's second week in office.
Sunak initially defended Williamson saying that he was not aware of "any of the specific concerns" of Williamson's alleged past abusive behavior. Meanwhile, Sir Keir Stammer, who leads the opposition, took the opportunity to accuse Sunak of being "too weak" to take on bullies like Williamson. Stammer went on to say that Sunak hides behind bullies and that he gave Williamson a position in his Cabinet "precisely" because of his reputation as a bully.
Williamson is accused of sending expletive-laced messages to Wendy Morton, the former Conservative Party Chief Whip. According to former Conservative Party chairman, Sir Jake Berry, he informed Sunak that Morton would be submitting a complaint against Williamson on October 24, the day before Sunak became PM and placed Williamson a seat in the Cabinet.
Morton also submitted a complaint to Parliament's Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. According to The Guardian, Williamson was abusive toward civil servants during his tenure as Defence Secretary. Williamson allegedly told some of the civil servants to "slit your throat" and "jump out of the window" on different occasions. The accusations came from an anonymous former senior official from the Ministry of Defence.
Williamson told The Guardian that he rejected the allegations and had "good working relationships" with officials during his other cabinet positions. Williamson added that "No specific allegations have ever been brought to my attention."
Williamson announced his resignation from the Cabinet in a Twitter post on Tuesday saying that he denies "the characterization of these claims" but acknowledged that they are "becoming a distraction" from Parliament's "good work." Williamson continued his Tweet by saying, "I have therefore decided to step back from government so that I can comply fully with the complaints process that is underway and clear my name of any wrongdoing."
When asked about Williamson's resignation and the accusations against him at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday Sunak said the he was un aware of "any of the specific concerns relating to his conduct as Secretary of State or chief Whip, which date back some years." Sunak went on to say, "I believe that people in public life should treat others with consideration and respect. And those are the principles that this government will stand by."
When asked if he regretted appointing Williamson to the Cabinet, Sunak answered, "I said my government will be characterized by integrity, professionalism, and accountability, and it will."
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