Gavin Williamson ordered to apologise for bullying chief whip after he wasn’t invited to Queen’s funeral

Independent Expert Panel finds behaviour to Wendy Morton amounted to ‘abuse of power’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 04 September 2023 20:44 BST
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Gavin Williamson resigns amid bullying allegations

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A watchdog has ordered Sir Gavin Williamson to formally apologise to MPs for bullying a colleague who did not allocate him tickets to the late Queen’s funeral.

The Independent Expert Panel found that Sir Gavin had breached rules and that his conduct towards former Conservative chief whip Wendy Morton amounted to an “abuse of power”, which went “beyond vigorous complaint or political disagreement”.

Sir Gavin had sent a series of expletive-laden text messages to the chief whip in September 2022 in the run-up to the Queen’s funeral, in part complaining that he was not invited to the ceremony. The messages were leaked to the media and Ms Morton lodged a complaint in November 2022.

Tory former cabinet minister Sir Gavin Williamson has been forced to apologise
Tory former cabinet minister Sir Gavin Williamson has been forced to apologise (PA Archive)

The former education secretary resigned from the government frontbench in light of the allegations, whose characterisation he rejected.

The panel found that the texts amounted to “offensive and intimidating behaviour” and a “threat to lever his power and authority as a former chief whip to undermine Ms Morton personally”.

The exchange concluded with Sir Gavin, angry about not being invited to the Queen’s funeral, telling the chief whip: “Well, let’s see how many more times you f*** us all over. There is a price for everything.”

The panel has said Sir Gavin should make a personal statement in the House of Commons and undergo “appropriate behaviour training” to increase his awareness of the impact of bullying on others.

Sir Gavin, who was handed his knighthood by Boris Johnson in March 2022, has accepted the panel’s ruling.

Former chief whip Wendy Morton was found to have been bullied
Former chief whip Wendy Morton was found to have been bullied (PA Wire)

In a statement released on Monday, the panel said: “The sub-panel considering the case found that Sir Gavin had bullied Wendy Morton MP in September 2022 when she was government chief whip during an exchange of text messages relating to his not being allocated tickets to the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Ms Morton made a complaint about these messages to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) in November 2022.

“The IEP sub-panel considering the case agreed with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that the texts were “offensive and intimidating behaviour”. It concluded that Sir Gavin’s conduct was an abuse of power, finding that it had gone beyond vigorous complaint or political disagreement to a threat to lever his power and authority as a former chief whip to undermine Ms Morton personally.

“The sub-panel determined, having considered the wishes of the complainant, that the appropriate sanction was to require Sir Gavin to make an unreserved apology by way of a personal statement in the House, and to undertake appropriate behaviour training. Sir Gavin accepted this decision.”

Appearing later on Monday in the Commons, he apologised “fully and unreservedly” for the series of expletive-laden messages to Ms Morton.

“During this exchange I used intemperate and inappropriate language which I regret and I apologised for shortly after..” he said.

“I accept the decision that my conduct constituted a breach of the bullying and harassment policy, and have since reflected on my behaviour. I reiterate my apology made to the complainant following the breach.

“I apologise to them again now and I apologise to the House fully and unreservedly. I will do my utmost to ensure this does not happen again.”

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