The Prime Minister is under pressure for bringing Sir Gavin back into cabinet despite being warned he was under investigation for allegedly bullying a female colleague.
Cabinet Office minister Sir Gavin is facing a probe over a series of abusive and threatening messages he is said to have sent to the then Tory chief whip Wendy Morton complaining he had been excluded from the Queen’s funeral.
On Sunday evening, Mr Sunak told The Sun: “I hadn’t seen those texts before last night, I had not.
“I was aware there was a disagreement between him and the former chief whip.”
Former Conservative Party chairman Sir Jake Berry informed Mr Sunak on the day he took office that Ms Morton had lodged a formal complaint over the messages.
In them, Sir Gavin angrily accused her of seeking to “punish” MPs like him who were out of favour with Liz Truss by excluding them from the Queen’s funeral.
The exchange of texts, obtained by The Sunday Times, concluded with him saying: “Well let’s see how many more times you f*** us all over. There is a price for everything.”
Mr Sunak said: “They were not acceptable or right.
“It was a difficult time for our party at the time, but regardless, people always should be treated with respect.
“I am glad Gavin has expressed regret.
“There is an independent complaint process which is running, its right and reasonable we let that conclude.”
Ms Morton told the BBC she raised concerns about text messages sent by Sir Gavin last month.
Both Sir Jake and Ms Morton lost their jobs in the ensuing reshuffle while Sir Gavin – a former chief whip and a supporter of Mr Sunak – returned to government.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats say the incident raises questions about Mr Sunak’s judgement.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, confirmed that Mr Sunak had been aware of the complaint when he made Sir Gavin a Cabinet Office minister but said he had not known the details of the exchanges.
Mr Dowden told the Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme: “But in terms of the specific allegations, the specific exchange, the Prime Minister wasn’t aware of it until last night.”
Asked if Mr Sunak had confidence in Sir Gavin, Mr Dowden said: “Of course the Prime Minister continues to have confidence in Gavin Williamson.”
No 10 told the BBC the Prime Minister believes expletive-laden text messages sent by Mr Williamson to a colleague are “unacceptable”.
Mr Dowden said Sir Gavin regretted sending the messages to Ms Morton at what had been a "difficult time" for the Conservative Party following the election of Ms Truss as leader.
"These were sent in the heat of the moment expressing frustration. It was a difficult time for the party. He now accepts that he shouldn't have done it and he regrets doing so," Mr Dowden said. "Thankfully we are in a better place now as a party."
In the messages, Sir Gavin is said to have complained it was “very poor” that privy councillors – senior politicians who formally advise the monarch – who “aren’t favoured” have been excluded from the funeral at Westminster Abbey.
Ms Morton repeatedly insisted that the claims were unfounded and that the Government had been allocated an “extremely limited” number of tickets, most of which went to members of the Cabinet.
You are using her death to punish people who are just supportive, absolutely disgusting
Sir Gavin Williamson
In the messages, Mr Williamson is said to have retorted: “Well certainly looks it which think is very shit and perception becomes reality. Also don’t forget I know how this works so don’t puss (sic) me about.
“It’s very clear how you are going to treat a number of us which is very stupid and you are showing f*** all interest in pulling things together.
“Also this shows exactly how you have rigged it is is (sic) disgusting you are using her death to punish people who are just supportive, absolutely disgusting.”
“Well let’s see how many more times you f*** us all over. There is a price for everything.”
Sir Jake told the paper that he was informed by the Conservative Party chief executive on October 24 that a complaint had been made against Sir Gavin regarding allegations of “bullying and intimidation of parliamentary colleagues”.
“In compliance with protocol, in my capacity as party chairman, I informed both the new Prime Minister and his incoming chief of staff about the complaint on the same day,” he said.
According to The Sunday Times, Mr Sunak did not recall the “specifics” of their conversation.
Sir Gavin was made a privy councillor and awarded a knighthood by Boris Johnson when he was prime minister earlier this year.
He is, however, viewed with suspicion by many Tory MPs because of his reputation as an inveterate plotter.
He was sacked first by Theresa May as defence secretary for leaking details of a national security council meeting and then by Mr Johnson as education secretary over the Covid-19 A-levels debacle.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Sunak’s decision to bring Sir Gavin back into Government called his judgment into question.
“Gavin Williamson was sacked from Cabinet twice, yet despite risking national security, he’s back at the heart of Government,” she said.
“Rishi Sunak’s pledge to restore integrity, professionalism and accountability has been exposed as nothing more than hollow words. Far from stopping the rot in Downing Street, he’s letting it fester.”
Shadow climate change secretary Ed Miliband told Sky News: “These are incredibly serious issues and I think it really calls into question Rishi Sunak’s judgment and the way he made decisions about his Cabinet.”
A Conservative Party spokesman: “The Conservative Party has a robust complaints process in place.
“This process is rightly a confidential one, so that complainants can come forward in confidence.”
Sir Gavin told The Sunday Times: “I of course regret getting frustrated about the way colleagues and I felt we were being treated.
“I am happy to speak with Wendy and I hope to work positively with her in the future as I have in the past.”