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Timeline: How did Sir Gavin Williamson go from cabinet to kerb?

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Sir Gavin Williamson’s third stint in the cabinet was by far his shortest.

He made his return to the government only two weeks ago, when Rishi Sunak appointed him as a Cabinet Office minister.

Once allegations that he had sent “abusive” text messages emerged, he was gone within 72 hours, returning to the backbenches for a third time in his parliamentary career.

Here’s how the former defence secretary and former education secretary also became a former Cabinet Office minister.

Saturday 5 November

Late in the evening, claims that Sir Gavin had sent expletive-laden texts to his fellow MP Wendy Morton when she was Liz Truss’s chief whip drop in an article on the Sunday Times website.

He had “lashed out” at his colleague in the messages, according to the report, claiming she had excluded him from attending the Queen’s funeral for political reasons and warning her “there is a price for everything”.

Damningly for Mr Sunak, it says Ms Morton had told the party the day before the prime minister took office that she wished to make a formal complaint.

British Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Chief Whip) Wendy Morton leaves Downing Street in London, Britain October 20, 2022. REUTERS/Toby Melville
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Wendy Morton was the first woman to serve as chief whip

Sir Jake Berry, who lost his job as Tory chairman in Mr Sunak’s reshuffle, claims in a statement he had also told the prime minister and his incoming chief of staff that Ms Morton was submitting a complaint that day.

Number 10 refuses to respond to the claims.

Sunday 6 November

As questions mount over how much Mr Sunak knew of the allegations, Oliver Dowden, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, is sent out by Downing Street in his defence on the traditional Sunday political programmes.

He tells Sky News’ Sophy Ridge that Mr Sunak knew there was a “difficult relationship” between Sir Gavin and Ms Morton, but “wasn’t aware” of “specific allegations” until Saturday evening.

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Williamson had ‘difficult relationship with ex-chief whip’

Mr Dowden adds that Sir Gavin “regrets the language he used” and also suggests that a number of individuals had “a difficult relationship” with Ms Morton.

“These were sent in the heat of the moment expressing frustration,” he says. “It was a difficult time for the party. He now accepts that he shouldn’t have done it and he regrets doing so. Thankfully, we are in a better place now as a party.”

Mr Dowden insists Mr Sunak has full confidence in his minister.

That morning Labour calls for an “urgent independent investigation” into the appointment of Sir Gavin, with shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband warning against a “cover-up” over the allegations.

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‘Urgent investigation’ into Williamson needed

Speaking to Sophy Ridge, Mr Miliband says the matter “really calls into question Rishi Sunak’s judgement and the way he made decisions about his cabinet”, adding Sir Gavin’s reappointment was “not in the public interest”.

“There needs to be an urgent independent investigation into exactly what happened. We can’t have a cover-up, we can’t have a whitewash here,” he says.

Monday 7 November

Downing Street continues to back Sir Gavin. But another article in The Times raises further questions about his time as chief whip in 2016 under Theresa May.

A minister tells the paper that when she was on the backbenches and campaigning on an issue that was causing difficulties for the government, Sir Gavin raised details about her private life in an attempt to silence her – which she interpreted as a tacit threat.

Mr Sunak attends the COP27 climate conference in Egypt and reporters specifically ask about the texts Sir Gavin allegedly sent to Ms Morton.

The PM says it is “right” for an independent complaints investigation to take place into accusations “before making any decisions about the future”.

But he says he had made it “very clear that the language is not right [and] not acceptable”, adding: “That’s why I welcome the fact Gavin Williamson has expressed regret about that.”

Rishi Sunak
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Rishi Sunak criticises Sir Gavin’s language, but stands by him

Come Monday evening, another incendiary story drops in The Guardian.

A former civil servant who worked under Sir Gavin when he was defence secretary between 2017 and 2019 claims he told them to “slit your throat” and “jump out of the window” in what they felt was a sustained campaign of bullying.

The civil servant, who later left government, says Sir Gavin “deliberately demeaned and intimidated” them on a regular basis. They say they reported the incidents informally to the MoD’s head of human resources, but decided against making a formal complaint.

Sir Gavin releases a statement saying he strongly rejects the allegations and had “enjoyed good working relationships with the many brilliant officials I have worked with across government”.

Tuesday 8 November

In the morning, it is confirmed that rather than leaving the investigation to the Tory party, Ms Morton has referred the text messages to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), the parliamentary watchdog.

Downing Street again insists that the prime minister believes Sir Gavin’s account of the events, but a spokesman describes the civil servant’s allegations as “serious” and says it would consider “proper processes” before commenting further.

The spokesman hints Mr Sunak might not wait until the end of investigations to make a decision about Sir Gavin’s future, but confirms he had attended cabinet that morning.

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Williamson and his spider, Cronus, had ‘mystique’ about them

By early evening, a new allegation emerges on Channel 4 News – this time by Anne Milton, a former deputy chief whip who worked under Sir Gavin.

She tells the programme he “loved salacious gossip and would use it as leverage against MPs if the need arose” and also claims he used an MP’s financial situation as a source of leverage.

At about 7pm, the ex-civil servant tells Sky News they are going to raise a formal complaint to the ICGS too, saying Sir Gavin’s “words and actions had an extreme impact on my mental health”.

At 8.11pm, Sir Gavin resigns in a letter on Twitter.

He said he refuted the “characterisation” of the claims, but that the allegations were “becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing for the British people” so he would step down and focus on clearing his name.

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Sir Gavin posts his resignation letter on Twitter

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