Rishi Sunak fights back during PMQs over Cabinet Minister’s resignation

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hit back at the Opposition during his second Prime Minister's Questions session today.

The Prime Minister blasted the behaviour of his former cabinet minister.
The Prime Minister blasted the behaviour of his former cabinet minister. Photo courtesy: Twitter/@RecentLatestVia

Facing pressure as one of his close allies and embattled ministers resigned from the Cabinet pending an investigation into allegations of bullying against him yesterday, Sunak scored some points on the issue of the economy against Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Sir Gavin Williamson, who was minister of state without portfolio as of yet was accused of abusive behaviour towards fellow Conservative Party colleagues and civil servants after which he posted his resignation on Twitter.

Sunak admitted he "regretted" reappointing Sir Gavin Williamson as a minister as he insisted his Government was one of "integrity". The Prime Minister blasted the behaviour of his former cabinet minister.

 "But I think what the British people would like to know is that when situations like this arise, that they will be dealt with properly. 

And that's why it is absolutely right that he resigned and it's why it is absolutely right that there is an investigation to look into these matters properly. I said my Government will be characterised by integrity, professionalism and accountability and it will," the PM added.

However, the Opposition has branded the episode as a sign of "poor judgement and leadership" by Sunak, and Labour Party Leader Sir Keir Starmer opened his PMQs on the issue.

Sir Keir seized on Mr Sunak's decision to hire his close ally in spite of the allegations in order to paint the Prime Minister as "weak".

He said: "Everyone in the country knows someone in the country like the member for South Staffordshire, a sad middle manager getting off on intimidating those beneath him. What message does he think it sends when rather than take on the bullies, he lines up alongside and thanks them for their loyalty?"

He added: "If he can't even stand up to a cartoon bully with a pet spider, if he's too scared to face the public in an election, what chance has he got of running the country?"

Hitting back, Sunak reminded MPs that his opposite number had tried to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister.

The row over Williamson's conduct has been brewing since the weekend, with reports that outgoing Conservative Party chairman Jake Berry told the newly-appointed Prime Minister about the "bullying" complaint against Williamson on October 24, a day before his appointment to the Sunak Cabinet.

Downing Street has maintained the new 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' newspaper.

Williamson is believed to have been instrumental in working behind the scenes to dissuade Boris Johnson from contesting in the leadership election against Sunak in the days after Liz Truss resigned as prime minister last month.

Refuting the allegations, Williamson in his resignation letter, said he refutes the "characterisation" of the claims about his "past conduct" but felt they had become a "distraction from the good work the government is doing".

It referred to some expletive-laden text messages he reportedly sent to the former Tory party whip, Wendy Morton, over being overlooked during Queen Elizabeth II's funeral.

He has since been reported to the parliamentary bullying watchdog, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, and says he has apologised to the recipient of the text messages and would comply with the complaints process to "clear my name of any wrongdoing".

This marks the third time Gavin Williamson has been forced out of the Cabinet. In 2019, he was sacked as defence secretary by then Prime Minister Theresa May after allegedly leaking sensitive information.