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8 November 2022

Will Rishi Sunak sack Gavin Williamson?

The Williamson saga undermines the Prime Minister’s promise to restore “professionalism” and “integrity” to government.

By Freddie Hayward

Pressure is building on Rishi Sunak to sack Gavin Williamson after a senior civil servant claimed the cabinet minister told them to “slit your throat” in a period of sustained bullying, according to the Guardian.

Williamson’s appointment as Minister without Portfolio was already under scrutiny after news emerged that he had sent threatening texts (including at least one expletive) to the then-chief whip Wendy Morton around the time of the Queen’s funeral. No 10 has so far said the Prime Minister has full confidence in Williamson. But how long will that last? 

The first controversy over Sunak’s cabinet was the appointment of Suella Braverman six days after she was sacked for sharing sensitive documents. The PM stood by her. But that was partly because he needed the support of the right of the parliamentary party, for whom Braverman is a figurehead. Williamson doesn’t provide the same benefit for Sunak. The growing number of negative stories about him in the papers attests to the fact there’s a strong contingent in the parliamentary party who want him gone. 

The saga further undermines Sunak’s promise in his first speech as prime minister to restore “professionalism” and “integrity” in government. And if he does eventually sack Williamson, Sunak’s authority will be undermined by the weakness he has shown so far. The PM says an investigation by parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme is ongoing, which allows him some respite: further questions can be deflected until the investigation’s outcome is known. If more allegations emerge, however, the story will drag on.

The Prime Minister still cannot get past the fallout of his first cabinet selections. That’s another reason to suspect that the party unity many think is a precondition for victory at the next general election is beyond reach.

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[See also: Imminent migrant deal leaves Rishi Sunak exposed]

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