Gavin Williamson’s former deputy has accused the cabinet minister of instilling a culture of fear among Tory MPs by using gossip about their drinking, sex lives or mental health problems as “leverage” to maintain control.
Anne Milton described Sir Gavin’s behaviour while government chief whip between 2016-17 as “threatening” and “intimidating” and alleged that he acted in an “unethical and immoral” and “shocking” manner.
In an interview with Channel 4 News, the former Tory MP said he appeared to be modelling himself on the devious and machiavellian Francis Urquhart from 1990s TV hit House of Cards.
The allegations come as Williamson came under intense pressure over claims that he told a civil servant to “slit your throat” and “jump out of the window” as defence secretary, which were described as “serious” by prime minister Rishi Sunak.
The minister without portfolio is already facing two inquiries over expletive-laden messages he allegedly sent to former chief whip Wendy Morton complaining about being left off the guest list for the Queen’s funeral.
Ms Morton today confirmed that she had reported the incident to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievances Service, after the Conservative party launched its own internal inquiry.
And Downing Street said Mr Sunak was considering whether to order a further probe into the allegations from his time as defence secretary.
Ms Milton worked in the whips’ office as Sir Gavin’s deputy during Theresa May’s premiership.
Speaking to Channel 4 News, she said his “threatening” and “intimidating” behaviour differed sharply from that of other chief whips, who took the pastoral side of their role more seriously.
She referred to claims of Williamson collecting “salacious gossip”, including details about the “sexual preferences” of MPs.
And she recalled an email Williamson sent discussing the behaviour of an MP who had been drinking heavily the night before, in which she said he wrote: “I actually think best not to say anything to him. It just helps by giving you personally a little more leverage in future.”
Describing Sir Gavin’s style as chief whip, Ms Milton said: “It’s an image he cultivates. I think he feels that he’s Francis Urquhart from House of Cards.”
And she added: “All four previous chief whips saw the whips’ office primary duty is to get the government’s legislation through parliament, but also understood the important role the whips’ office has to play in its pastoral care, and all of them felt very strongly about it.
“I never really felt that with Gavin Williamson. I got the impression that he loved salacious gossip and would use it as leverage against MPs if the need arose.”
Milton said she had chosen to speak out following Ms Morton’s complaint over allegedly abusive messages.
“It’s time to speak out,” she said. “It’s time to speak out against this sort of macho culture that I think has got more presence in parliament than when I left.”
She questioned Rishi Sunak’s decision to appoint Williamson as a minister after he had twice previously been sacked from cabinet.
“I think at best it was probably a bit naïve,” she said. “I don’t know that there are many people that would hang out the bunting to see Gavin Williamson back in government.”
Ms Milton detailed one alleged incident, when she says that the whips’ office gave some financial assistance to an MP.
“I do remember him asking me to give the MP in question the cheque,” she said. “And he waved it under my nose and said, ‘Make sure when you give him this cheque, he knows I now own him.’”
Ms Milton said: “I don’t think it was a joke. It was the seriousness with which he said it. And I think that the bottom line is, if instances accord with your overall experience with somebody, then you believe them.”
She said she gave the MP the cheque but didn’t pass on Williamson’s message.