Sir Gavin Williamson could be stripped of his knighthood if bullying allegations are upheld, a committee that removes such honours has suggested.
The ex-Conservative education secretary is facing two separate formal investigations – by parliamentary authorities and the Tory party – into claims that he bullied civil servants and a fellow MP.
A letter shared with The Independent suggested that the forfeiture committee could consider re-examining Sir Gavin’s honour, if he was “censured” by the bodies currently probing the bullying claims.
The forfeiture committee, part of the Cabinet Office, considers cases when the holder of an honour has brought the system into disrepute. It can recommend to the King, through the prime minister, that an honour should be removed.
The Liberal Democrats’ chief whip Wendy Chamberlain wrote to the committee’s chair Sir Chris Wormald to ask him to “consider withdrawing Gavin Williamson’s knighthood if the serious allegations made against him are upheld”.
Ms Chamberlain said the claims against the Tory MP “suggest a pattern of behaviour that is not in keeping with the high standards expected of recipients of honours”.
Replying on his behalf, the head of honours and appointments secretariat at the Cabinet Office said the forfeiture committee “is aware of the investigations currently being carried out in relation to Mr Williamson”.
They added: “It is our policy not to consider any case where legal or professional enquiries are still ongoing. Where an honours recipient has been censured by the bodies empowered to make such decisions, the committee will consider the appropriate course of action.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment on any individual honours recipient. The circumstances for which an honour can be removed are set out clearly on gov.uk.”
Sir Gavin, handed a knighthood by Boris Johnson in March, resigned as a cabinet minister in November after a series of allegations about his behaviour emerged – including an allegation that he told a civil servant to “slit your throat”.
Mr Williamson has denied bullying accusations. He said he “refutes the characterisation of these claims” in his resignation letter to Mr Sunak, but acknowledged the allegations were “becoming a distraction”.
Civil servants who claim to have been bullied by the MP are understood to have referred him to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) in November.
Sir Gavin is also facing inquiries about reported messages sent to then-chief whip Wendy Morton last year in which he claimed she had tried to “f*** us all over” over the lack of an invitation to the Queen’s funeral.
Ms Morton is understood to have made a formal complaint to the Tory party, as well as referring him to the ICGS. Separately, No 10 is also understood to have made their own informal inquiries into Mr Williamson’s remarks.
The forfeiture committee does not necessarily need a criminal conviction to recommend the stripping of honours when considering cases of individuals who may have brought the system into “disrepute”.
But it is understood that there is a high bar for removing honours, typically involving cases where individual has been convicted of a criminal offence or struck off by a relevant professional body.
Former Royal Bank of Scotland boss Fred Goodwin – who led the bank to the brink of collapse – was stripped of his knighthood by the late Queen based on the advice of the committee.
“Rishi Sunak turned a blind eye to the extremely serious allegations made about Gavin Williamson’s behaviour when he decided to appoint him,” Ms Chamberlain told The Independent.
The Lib Dem whip called on Mr Sunak to confirm that he would “back stripping Sir Gavin of his knighthood” and withdraw the Tory whip if bullying allegations against him were upheld.
“Anything less would confirm that Sunak is following in Boris Johnson’s footsteps when it comes to upholding standards,” she added.
Mr Williamson and No 10 have been approached for comment.