Rishi Sunak Is Failing The First Big Test of His Premiership Over Gavin Williamson

The prime minister is not being straight with the public about the investigation into his under-fire minister.
Jacob King via PA Wire/PA Images

Rishi Sunak is very keen that people believe the investigation into bullying allegations against his close ally Gavin Williamson is “independent”.

In Egypt yesterday for the Cop27 climate summit, the prime minister repeated the claim three times during one interview.

“There’s an independent complaints investigation that is happening and it’s right that we let that process run its course before passing judgment,” he said.

Asked whether it was definitely happening, the PM replied: “Yes, yes, that is. There’s an independent complaints investigation process that is happening.”

For good measure, he added: “There’s an independent complaints process that’s being conducted at the moment. It would be right to let that process conclude before making any decisions about the future.”

The only small snag is that the investigation is not independent at all.

Conservative HQ confirmed to HuffPost UK that a panel convened by the party is looking into claims Williamson sent a series of foul-mouthed texts to former chief whip Wendy Morton.

According to the Tory website, “panel members are drawn from a list of senior volunteers approved by the board of the Conservative Party, legal professionals and experienced CCHQ staff.

“They are competent and have either specific experience or specialities to sit in judgement on these matters.”

But the only independent element of the whole process is that panel members have no links to “all individuals involved with the complaint to ensure that there is no conflict of interest and the complaint is heard fairly”.

This matters because Sunak put “integrity, professionalism and accountability” at the heart of his premiership.

Misleadingly claiming that the probe into Williamson’s conduct is an independent process shows that the new prime minister has already failed to meet the standards he set himself on the steps on Downing Street last month.

And far from reflecting on his decision to bring Williamson back into government, Sunak appears to be doubling down in his support for the controversial South Staffordshire MP.

Despite Wendy Morton escalating her complaint by referring it parliament’s independent complaints and grievance scheme, and fresh claims that Williamson once told a civil servant to “slit your throat”, Number 10 insists he retains confidence in his minister.

But if further allegations against the MP emerge, and the PM is forced to dispense with the services of his close ally, he will have burned an awful lot of political capital for no benefit whatsoever.

At a time when he is already battling to repair the damage done to the Tories’s fortunes by his predecessors, he can ill-afford any more slip-ups if he wants to retain any hope of still being prime minister after the next election.


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