Gavin Williamson (Photo: Getty / Gavin Williamson Instagram)
Sir Gavin Williamson is no stranger to controversy. He has been sacked twice and has the reputation of a modern-day Machiavelli.
New prime minister Rishi Sunak has made him a cabinet office minister after Williamson helped orchestrate his leadership campaign.
But now he’s back in the headlines, this time accused by his own colleagues of bullying. He is also facing serious allegations that he told a senior civil servant to “slit your throat”.
Here, HuffPost UK talks you through why he is once again in hot water and his previous bloopers.
Texts To Wendy Morton
Williamson is under fire after WhatsApp messages he sent to the former Tory party chief whip, Wendy Morton, were leaked to the Sunday Times.
In the messages, the member of the Privy Council said it looked “very shit” that he had not made the cut.
“It’s very clear how you are going to treat a number of us which is very stupid and you are showing f*ck all interest in pulling things together,” Williamson texted.
Downing Street has confirmed Sunak knew about a complaint against Williamson before appointing him to cabinet, but had not seen the messages.
Opposition parties have said Williamson is not fit to be a minister and even his own colleagues have accused him of bullying.
Former Tory culture secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted that she would like to see the PM rap Williamson for sending “bullying text messages” to a female colleague. “Bullying is NOT excusable,” she added.
I’d much rather he rapped Williamson for sending bullying text messages to a female colleague and Oliver Dowden for trying to excuse his behaviour in media round. Bullying is NOT excusable.
Both far more serious offences than anything @MattHancock is doing. https://t.co/nrD1vuyOfe
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) November 6, 2022
Morton has lodged a complaint against Williamson, which is currently being investigated by Tory HQ.
The text message saga may have opened the floodgates to accusations against Williamson with another one splashed across The Times.
Monday morning saw Williamson face another accusation, this time from a minister claiming that he raised details about her private life during a conversation in an attempt to silence her while she was on the back benches.
Allies of Williamson denied that he had been trying to silence the MP and said that he had raised the issue in a “pastoral capacity”.
‘Slit Your Throat’
Following on from the bullying stories, The Guardian reported incendiary allegations about Williamson’s conduct in previous jobs.
According to the claims, Williamson told a senior civil servant to “slit your throat” in a bullying campaign while he was defence secretary.
The ministry of defence official told the newspaper Williamson made the remarks in front of colleagues in a meeting, and on another occasion told them to “jump out of the window”.
Williamson said he “strongly” rejects the allegation and insisted he has “enjoyed good working relationships” with officials.
But the allegations, including that Williamson “deliberately demeaned and intimidated” the civil servant on a regular basis, will add to calls for his sacking.
Russia Should ‘Shut Up’
One of Williamson’s most memorable moments came in 2018 when he said Vladimir Putin’s Russia “should go away and should shut up”.
He was defence secretary when he made the comment in response to questions over the expulsion of diplomats over the Salisbury poison attack.
Williamson was subsequently dubbed “Private Pike” by officials after the Dad’s Army character.
“It is absolutely atrocious and outrageous what Russia did in Salisbury. We have responded to that,” he said. “Frankly, Russia should go away and should shut up.”
Cronus And Carrots
Williamson infamously kept a tarantula in his office when he was chief whip.
The spider was named Cronus, after the Greek god who castrated his own father before eating his own children so they would not oust him.
He also used a party conference speech to warn unruly MPs that he took a “carrot and stick” approach to discipline in the Commons.
He added: “I don’t very much believe in the stick, but it’s amazing what can be achieved with a sharpened carrot.”
Gavin Williamson was branded ignorant when, as education secretary in 2021, he appeared to confuse Marcus Rashford with the England rugby player Maro Itoje, who is also black.
The cabinet minister made the apparent gaffe in an interview with the Evening Standard.
Williamson claimed he shared a Zoom call with Rashford who forced the government into multiple U-turns over free school meals.
However, Williamson’s team later clarified he had in fact spoken to Itoje.
Williamson was sacked by Theresa May as defence secretary in 2019 following the leak of sensitive information about phone giant Huawei from the National Security Council.
May said she was “concerned by the manner in which you have engaged with this investigation.”
She went on: “In our meeting this evening, I put to you the latest information from the investigation, which provides compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure.
“No other, credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified.”
Richard Madeley Beef
Williamson had a terse interview cut short after he dodged questions from TV veteran Richard Madeley.
In 2018, the then defence secretary was accused by Madeley of taking a “Trump-esque” approach to Russia in the aftermath of the Salisbury poisoning.
The Good Morning Britain presenter repeatedly tried to get Williamson to answer a question before cutting the interview.
“What are they like? What are these politicians like, when you give them a straight question?” Madeley said afterwards.
In December 2020 in the depths of the Covid pandemic, the former education secretary picked a fruitless fight with schools.
He threatened legal powers against a council which advised headteachers to close early for Christmas.
Williamson issued a temporary continuity direction to the Royal Borough of Greenwich, ordering it must “immediately and by 10am on 15 December” withdraw its recommendation for schools to close.
However, as Covid cases soared, England’s primary schools went into lockdown after one day of term in January.
The summer of 2020 was particularly tough for A-Level pupils who had their eduction turned upside down.
Thousands of students missed out on university places due to a controversial algorithm.
Amid huge pressure, Williamson eventually U-turned and accepted teachers’ grades.
It was Summer 2021 and Williamson was on the media round on A-Level results day.
The then education secretary said he did not remember what grades he received, despite remembering opening the envelope.
In an interview on LBC, the education secretary said: “I remember walking up to those college doors, going into my college at sixth form, getting the envelope, opening up that envelope, seeing the grades on there and feeling absolute delight.”
But pressed on what his results were, Williamson said: “I’ve forgotten, it was so long ago.”
When defence secretary in 2018, Williamson risked a diplomatic row with France, by saying there was no point listening to them on how to approach the conflict in Syria.
“What is the point in listening to French politicians?,” he told reporters at a Nato summit. “We have our own foreign policy, we don’t need to copy [others].”
In January 2018, Williamson confessed he had cheated on his wife back in 2004 when he was a fireplace salesman.
He confessed to having an office romance with a colleague, admitting he “nearly destroyed two marriages”.
The pair “shared a kiss a couple of times” but the relationship “never went further”, he said.
The unusual admission came amid speculation that Williamson was considering running for Tory party leader.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.