PMQs live: Keir Starmer ATTACKS Rishi Sunak over Gavin Williamson bullying allegations

Gavin Williamson resigned from Rishi Sunak's Cabinet on Tuesday amid allegations of bullying

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Sir Keir Starmer has laid into Rishi Sunak following the resignation of Sir Gavin Williamson.

Sir Gavin quit Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet on Tuesday after conceding that allegations about his conduct had become a “distraction”.

The former Cabinet Office minister said he had decided to “step back from Government” while the complaints process into his conduct is carried out, vowing to “clear my name of any wrongdoing”.

The decision to quit followed allegations he sent expletive-laden messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton complaining about being refused an invitation to the Queen’s funeral, claims he bullied a former official at the Ministry of Defence and an accusation of “unethical and immoral” behaviour while he was chief whip.

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer
Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer

Speaking during Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, Mr Sunak said “it is absolutely right” that Sir Gavin resigned and that he did not know about “any of the specific concerns” relating to his conduct as Secretary of State or chief whip.

His comments came after the Labour leader asked him in the Commons: “The member for South Staffordshire (Sir Gavin Williamson) told a civil servant to slit their throat.

“How does the Prime Minister think the victim of that bullying felt when he expressed great sadness at his resignation?”

Rishi Sunak replied: “Unequivocally, the behaviour complained of was unacceptable and it is absolutely right, it is absolutely right, that the right honourable gentleman has resigned.

"For the record, I did not know about any of the specific concerns relating to his conduct as Secretary of State or chief whip, which date back some years.

“I believe that people in public life should treat others with consideration and respect, and those are the principles that this Government will stand by.”

Sir Kir then hit back by saying: "The member for South Staffordshire spent years courting the idea he can intimidate others, blurring the lines to normalised bullying behaviour, it’s precisely why the Prime Minister gave him a job.

"The truth is simple, he is a pathetic bully, but he would never get away with it if people like the Prime Minister didn’t hand him power.

"So does he regret his decision to make him a Government minister?"

Sir Gavin Williamson
Sir Gavin Williamson

To which the Prime Minister replied: “I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances 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.”

Sir Keir then continued by saying: “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.

“But everyone in the country also knows someone like the Prime Minister, the boss who is so weak, so worried the bullies will turn on him that he hides behind them.

"What message does he think it sends when rather than take on the bullies, he lines up alongside and thanks them for their loyalty.”

Mr Sunak replied: “The message that I clearly want to send is that integrity in public life matters and that is why it is right that (Gavin Williamson) has resigned. It is why it is right that there is a rigorous process to examine these issues.”

“But as well as focusing on this one individual, it also right and important that we keep delivering for the whole country and that’s why this Government will continue to concentrate on stabilising the economy, on strengthening the NHS and on tackling illegal migration, those are my priorities, those are the priorities of the British people and this Government will deliver on them.”

Sir Keir went on to say: “The problem is he can’t stand up to a run-of-the-mill bully, so he has no chance of standing up to vested interests on behalf of working people.”

He added: “Take Shell – they made record profits this year, £26 billion, how much have they paid under his so-called windfall tax?”

Rishi Sunak replied: “I was the Chancellor who introduced an extra tax on the oil and gas companies, but he talks about working people.

“(He) voted against legislation to stop strikes disrupting working people, he voted against legislation to stop extremist protesters disrupting working people, that’s because he’s not on the side of working people, that’s what the Conservatives are for.”

Elsewhere, Sir Keir urged Mr Sunak to “find a backbone” and expand the windfall tax on fossil fuel giants.

He told the Commons: “Shell haven’t paid a penny in windfall tax. Why? Because for every pound they spend digging for fossil fuels, he hands them a 90p tax break and it’s costing the taxpayer billions. So will he find a backbone and end his absurd oil and gas giveaway?”

Mr Sunak replied: “What the party opposite will never understand is that it’s businesses investing that creates jobs in this country.”

Sir Keir countered: “There’s only one party that crashed the economy and they’re all sitting there.

“It’s a pattern with this Prime Minister. Too weak to sack the security threat sat around the Cabinet table. Too weak to take part in a leadership contest after he lost the first one. Too weak to stand up for working people.

“He spent weeks flirting with the climate change deniers in his party, then scuttled off to Cop27 at the last minute.”