Gavin Williamson: Rishi Sunak faces questions following resignation

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing questions about his judgement following the resignation of cabinet minister Sir Gavin Williamson after bullying claims.

[Sir Gavin Williamson lasts a couple of weeks before being forced out of government for a third time, but allowed to resign rather than be sacked. The government is still in chaos will “Leaky” Sue be next? – Owl]

By Christy Cooney

Mr Sunak is set to face MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions and is expected to be asked when he learned the full details of the allegations.

Sir Gavin is accused of abusive behaviour towards fellow MPs and civil servants, though denies any wrongdoing.

Labour said the episode has shown “poor judgement and leadership” by Mr Sunak.

Sir Gavin was appointed minister without portfolio after Mr Sunak, a close political ally, won the Tory leadership just two weeks ago.

Complaints against him first emerged when The Sunday Times published a series of expletive-laden texts he sent last month to then-chief whip Wendy Morton.

In the texts, he appears to complain about not having been invited to the Queen’s funeral, and seemingly accuses Ms Morton of “rigging” ticket allocations against MPs not “favoured” by then-prime minister Liz Truss.

He reportedly warned Ms Morton “not to push him about” and said that “there is a price for everything”.

A senior civil servant later told the Guardian that, during his time as defence secretary, Sir Gavin told them to “slit your throat” and, on another occasion, to “jump out of the window”.

On Tuesday, his former deputy, Anne Milton, also claimed he had behaved in a “threatening” and “intimidating” way towards MPs while serving as chief whip.

Ex-Conservative Party Chair Jake Berry has said he told Mr Sunak about Ms Morton’s complaint on 24 October, the day before Sir Gavin’s appointment.

No 10 has said the prime minister “knew there was a disagreement” but that he didn’t know the “substance” of the messages until they were published by the Sunday Times.

Sir Gavin has been reported to the MPs’ bullying watchdog, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, over his WhatsApp messages to Ms Morton.

The Guardian has reported that the civil servant from the ministry of defence has also lodged a complaint with the body.

Speaking on Monday, Mr Sunak said the language used in the texts was “not acceptable”, but asked if it amounted to bullying said it was “right” to let an independent complaints process conclude.

Sir Gavin’s resignation marks the third time he has been forced from government. In 2019, he was sacked as defence secretary after allegedly leaking sensitive information related to Huawei’s potential involvement in the UK’s 5G network.

Later that year, he was made education secretary by Boris Johnson, but in 2021 was removed over his handling of A-level exams during the Covid pandemic.

Speaking on BBC Two’s Newsnight, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called Sir Gavin’s appointment last month “astonishing” and said it showed “poor judgement and lack of leadership and weakness” on the part of the prime minister.

“It would be very surprising [if] they weren’t aware of the full strength of the allegations against Gavin Williamson when he was appointed,” she said.

She accused Mr Sunak of appointing Sir Gavin as part of a “grubby little backroom deal” to make himself prime minister instead of “governing the country in the interests of the British people”.

Ms Rayner also said Sir Gavin should stand down as an MP if the bullying claims are proven. “There is no place for bullies in parliament,” she said.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “Rishi Sunak has serious questions to answer about why he appointed Gavin Williamson, then stood by him instead of sacking him.

“His promise to lead a government of integrity has now been left in tatters.”

In his resignation letter, Sir Gavin said he refuted the “characterisation” of the claims “about my past conduct” but felt they had become a “distraction from the good work the government is doing”.

He added that he had apologised to the recipient of the text messages and would comply with the complaints process to “clear my name of any wrongdoing”.

He later tweeted that he would not be taking any severance pay, traditionally given to ministers when they leave office.

In reply, Mr Sunak said he accepted the resignation “with great sadness” and thanked Sir Gavin for his “personal support and loyalty”.

“Your commitment to successive Conservative governments and the party over the years has been unwavering,” he said.

Mr Sunak is also facing pressure over why he reappointed Suella Braverman as home secretary just weeks after she was forced to resign for breaking ministerial rules by sending an official document to a fellow MP from her personal email.

Opposition figures have again accused him of keeping her in the cabinet as part of an agreement to ensure her support for his position as prime minister.

Pinhoe to join Exmouth in new boundary shake-up

Pinhoe is now set to join the newly created ‘East Exeter and Exmouth’ parliamentary constituency instead of Priory ward.

[There are, as yet, no corresponding press reports on the new Honiton constituency. 

In many ways new Honiton provides continuity with the old Tiverton and Honiton, comprising 66% of the voters from the old constituency and 22% of the old Devon East constituency. It will be a rural constituency of market towns, well defined borders, including the coastline from Seaton to Sidmouth.

In contrast the new East Exeter and Exmouth constituency now adds 11% of Exeter voters to the residual 78% of Devon East creating a strange mixture of city and urban dormitory towns with the isolated seaside town of Budleigh Salterton and the AONB to its north looking somewhat isolated. – Owl]

Ollie Heptinstall

As part of a shake-up of England’s map for general elections, which aims to give each MP roughly the same number of voters, the Boundary Commission has revised its proposals following a four-week consultation earlier in the year.

It had planned to include Priory as part of a new ‘Exmouth’ constituency but this was met by significant opposition, including from city council leader Phil Bialyk and East Devon MP Simon Jupp.

As a result, Priory is now proposed to stay part of the main Exeter constituency while Pinhoe will join the new seat, which covers parts of Mr Jupp’s existing East Devon constituency as well as some areas of Exeter.

The Boundary Commission had previously intended to call this seat ‘Exmouth’, however following feedback it’s now set to be known as ‘East Exeter and Exmouth’.

A third and final consultation on the new revised constituency proposals is now open until 5 December and the commission will then submit its final recommendations to Parliament next summer.

Explaining why the changes are being made, the commission says it needs to “reduce the high electorate of the existing Exeter constituency,” which is why Priory was initially considered to be moved out.

The current Exeter constituency has an electorate of just over 80,000, higher than between the 69,724 and 77,062 allowed under the new national proposals.

Replacing Pinhoe with Priory would barely make any difference to the numbers. Earlier this year Priory’s electorate was stated as being 6,637 compared to Pinhoe’s total of 6,661.

The commission has revealed this issue was the main reason why changes to the Exeter boundary was the “largest issue in the South West region and one of the largest in England,” with more than 500 written representations received in opposition as well as petitions containing 1,853 names.

Summarising the feedback, they added: “Respondents said that although Pinhoe is a City of Exeter ward, it comprises mostly new development and has ties to the town of Broadclyst and the newer developments in the Cranbrook ward.

“The ward’s inclusion in Exmouth would mean that the three eastern wards of Exeter would all be in the Exmouth constituency.”

Mr Jupp (Conservative) spoke out against Priory being removed from the main Exeter constituency in March, saying: “The Priory ward is categorically part of Exeter city, with residents identifying themselves as living in Exeter.”

He added: “I believe that the historic village of Pinhoe, having been subsumed into the city of Exeter, still retains much of the independence, character, style and connections of nearby wards in the East Devon district, including Broadclyst.”

Cllr Bialyk, the Labour leader of Exeter City Council, echoed Mr Jupp’s remarks at the time. The council last year asked the Boundary Commission to include Pinhoe in the new Exmouth seat instead of Priory.

Reacting to the updated proposal, Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw (Labour) tweeted: “After listening to strong representations from people in Exeter, the Boundary Commission has agreed to keep Burnthouse Lane and the rest of Priory ward in the Exeter parliamentary constituency. Good decision.”

The public are invited to view and comment on the new map at

Call time on part-time MPs

From Unlock Deocracy:

We need to call time on part-time MPs.

  • Matt Hancock MP is currently in the jungle in Australia on the TV show ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here’. He could be away from Parliament for up to 3 weeks.
  • Boris Johnson MP was recently on holiday in the Caribbean while Parliament was sitting.

These are two of the latest examples of part-time MPs. There is no way for constituents of these MPs to sack them. They must wait until a General Election.

We believe that MPs should face immediate penalties for not showing up for work – unless there is a good reason not to.

If you agree, please sign our petition to amend the Recall of MPs Act 2015.

We want to amend the Recall of MPs Act 2015 so that constituents neglected by their absent MPs have the chance to fire them.

If MPs have long periods of absence, this should trigger a recall petition, and if 10% of constituents sign it, the MP would be forced to face a by-election. It would also allow the docking of MP’s pay.

Our suggestions were featured in The Mirror over the weekend.

If anyone else failed to turn up for their job without good reason, they would be in trouble with their employer.

This is yet another example of one rule for MPs and another for the rest of us.

The role of an MP is to scrutinise and propose legislation and hold the government to account. They have a further responsibility which is to represent the interests of their constituents.

Can they take their responsibilities seriously while lying on the beach or doing challenges in the jungle?

We don’t think so.

It’s time to call time on part-time MPs.

Will you sign our petition calling for stricter rules for absent MPs?

County Council may gain new traffic powers

New powers to enforce ‘moving traffic offences’ could be taken on by Devon County Council.

The authority’s ruling cabinet is being urged to take advantage of new rules which mean local councils can apply to enforce the driving errors for the first time and hand out fines.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter

Moving traffic offences (MTO) include driving through a ‘no entry’ sign, driving the wrong way up a one-way street, entering yellow box junctions when there is no clear exit and driving in bus lanes.

Currently these offences are monitored and enforced by Devon and Cornwall Police.

The recommendation to apply for the new powers follows a review by a council scrutiny committee, which concluded that if correctly implemented they could reduce traffic congestion and reduce the number of accidents.

A council report, due to be considered by the cabinet next week, outlines how a limited number of sites are planned for “initial consideration” for the scheme. They are:

  • Heavitree Fore Street, Exeter – Bus Lane
  • Exe Bridges, Exeter – Bus Lane
  • Exe Bridges, Exeter – Yellow Box Junction
  • Penn Inn, Roundabout Newton Abbot – Yellow Box Junction
  • Topsham Road / Burnthouse Lane, Exeter – Bus Lane
  • The Square (near Boutport Street) Barnstaple – Bus Lane

“These locations have been selected as they are known to create and contribute towards congestion and are covered by existing CCTV infrastructure. In addition, Fore Street, Heavitree lies within an Air Quality Management Area,” the report explains.

Before making their application, Devon will need to “gather evidence that offences are occurring at their proposed enforcement locations, causing concerns for: safety, congestion, active travel priority or public transport reliability.”

Once this evidence is gathered, the report goes on to say that a minimum six-week public consultation will take place on the locations and types of moving traffic offences proposed for enforcement action.

For the first six months of operation, in accordance with national guidance, the first offence committed by a driver would produce a warning only.

Subsequent breaches would result in a £70 (higher level) or £50 (lower level) penalty charge, reduced to 50 per cent if paid within 21 days.

There would also be an appeal process available, like the one currently used for parking fines.

Councillor Alistair Dewhirst (Lib Dem, Ipplepen & The Kerswells), chair of the corporate infrastructure and regulatory services scrutiny committee which has made the recommendation, said: “We believe that there is a clear opportunity to improve traffic flow and safety on urban roads throughout Devon.

“However, this additional enforcement activity should be pursued with a common-sense approach that does not lead to disproportionate burden on motorists for minor misdemeanours.

“We are mindful that with an increase in the cost-of-living, additional charges will not be welcomed. However, there is an anticipated real benefit to keep traffic moving as well as to encourage safe driving.”

The cabinet will consider the idea, as part of its highways and traffic management policy review, on Wednesday [9 November].

If it backs the idea and the council’s application is successful, powers are likely to be confirmed by the end of 2023.

“Bootlickers, bimbos and tropical island holiday facilitators” on BoJo’s honours list.

Furthermore he proposes to wangle post dating of peerages for serving MPs to avoid by-elections!

Boris Johnson’s post-dated peerages for cronies are a constitutional novelty as well.

The Independent 

Predictably, Boris Johnson’s reported resignation honours list is a defiant compilation of cronies, donors and private jokes. In the candid words of one anonymous Conservative MP to Sky News: “What a shameful list of bootlickers, bimbos and tropical island holiday facilitators who between them can be proud to have pushed trust in politics to an extreme low during their tenures and offered very little in return to the British people.”

Then again, Johnson was never much bothered about any of that.

An immediate problem is the unsuitability of some of the names being proposed by the new prime minister on behalf of his predecessor to the King, by convention. They’re very much Johnson’s responsibility, his personal gifts of recognition on the occasion of his departure, as opposed to the usual run of honours in the New Year and on the sovereign’s birthday. But No 10 will always be wary of recommending questionable characters for vetting by the House of Lords Appointments Committee and, more informally, Buckingham Palace. So the twenty or so originals have been whittled down.

One apparent omission is the long-rumoured elevation of the editor-in-chief of the Daily Mail titles, Paul Dacre, to a peerage. No doubt his day will come. More certain seem to be the four Conservative MPs nominated for their lordships’ house: Nadine Dorries, former culture secretary and fanatical Johnson loyalist; Alister Jack, current secretary of state for Scotland, Alok Sharma, ex-cabinet minister and retiring Cop26 president, and Nigel Adams, long-time Johnson confidant, junior minister and close ally.

Apart from anything else, the problem with nominating sitting MPs for the Lords is that they have to quit their Commons seats, prompting a by-election. Two of the four seats would almost certainly fall to opposition parties (one each to Labour and the SNP), while the other two (including Selby) would probably be touch and go between Labour and the Tories. In order to avoid further erosion of their parliamentary majority, the Conservatives are trying to engineer “post-dated” peerages, to take effect only after the next general election is called. It is a constitutional novelty rather than an outrage, but there is no law against it, and it will really be up to Sunak.

Many of the other figures in line for peerages seem to represent Johnson putting two fingers up to his critics. As if to signal his contempt for the dignity of the upper chamber, Johnson wishes to ennoble two of his most loyal advisers: Ross Kempsell, the Conservative party’s former political director, and Charlotte Owen, Johnson’s former assistant, who would become the youngest ever life peers. Besides their relatively short party political service to Johnson, they have relatively little expertise to bring to the Lords.

Similarly cheeky is the nomination of Shaun Bailey, failed Tory candidate for mayor of London. It was Bailey who faced the shame of attending a lockdown rules-busting Christmas party. Perhaps Johnson is signalling what he really thinks about the Partygate saga. Also controversial is Tory mayor for Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, and the donor who arranged for the Johnsons’ winter holiday in Mustique, Carphone Warehouse founder David Ross.

Johnson isn’t the first prime minister to have attracted criticism for his selections for ennoblement and knighthoods. The most famously eccentric resignations list was the one Harold Wilson presented on his retirement in 1976, which contained a number of figures with little or no connection, let alone sympathy, for the Labour; and one, the businessman Joseph Kagan, later convicted of fraud. It was called the “lavender list” because it was drafted on coloured notepaper by Wilson’s political secretary Marcia Williams (who had been herself ennobled in 1974, Johnson-style). It became notorious.

David Lloyd-George, who allegedly sold honours during and after the First World War, as well as Tony Blair, who became embroiled in the cash-for-honours scandal in 2005-06, and the King, as Prince of Wales, have all also found themselves the subject of unfavourable comment about their nominations for preferment. The difference with Johnson is that his reputation doesn’t have far to fall.