Rishi Sunak regards bullying allegations against cabinet minister Sir Gavin Williamson as “serious” and is considering whether any action should be taken on them, Downing Street has said.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said that no formal complaint has been received in relation to the claims that Williamson as defence secretary told a civil servant to “slit your throat” and “jump out of the window”.
Sir Gavin has rejected the suggestion that he bullied any staff, claiming to have had “good working relationships” with his “brilliant officials”, but has not denied using the words alleged.
A former senior civil servant told The Guardian that while at the Ministry of Defence, Sir Gavin “deliberately demeaned and intimidated” a member of staff on a regular basis. A human resources official was alerted, but no formal complaint submitted.
The report came as Sir Gavin was reported to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievances Service over separate allegations of expletive-laden messages he sent to former chief whip Wendy Morton after being denied a place in the congregation for the Queen’s funeral. He already faces an internal Conservative Party probe into the text mesages.
Asked about the claims about Sir Gavin’s actions as defence secretary, Mr Sunak’s spokesperson told reporters: “There have been further allegations reported this morning. Those are serious allegations that have come in.
“It’s true that no formal complaint has been made, but we want to consider all proper processes before commenting further.”
The spokesperson said that Sir Gavin retains the “full confidence” of the prime minister.
Challenged over whether this meant Mr Sunak accepted his minister’s account of events, the spokesperson replied: “Yes.”
The minister without portfolio attended the regular weekly meeting of cabinet in 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning, but the claims about him were not discussed. The PM’s spokesperson said he was not aware of any plans for Mr Sunak to speak with Williamson.
In the absence of an independent ethics adviser at No 10, Mr Sunak would be expected to turn to the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team if he considers that any investigation is needed into Sir Gavin’s behaviour and whether it would amount to a breach of the ministerial code.
No formal complaint is required for an investigation of this kind to be commissioned by the prime minister.