A summary of today's developments
Gavin Williamson has announced he is resigning from government after further bullying allegations emerged.
Williamson’s letter, released on his Twitter account, says he refutes “the characterisation of these claims” regarding the further allegations, but added “I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing”.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”. Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This is a damning reflection of a weak Prime Minister. “Rishi Sunak appointed Gavin Williamson with full knowledge of serious allegations about his conduct and repeatedly expressed confidence in him.”
A former senior civil servant who claimed Gavin Williamson told them to “slit your throat” has made a formal complaint against him. The allegations were first reported in the Guardian on Monday and included claims that Williamson, who was the defence secretary at the time, told the official on another occasion to “jump out of the window”.
Anne Milton, the former deputy chief whip Anne Milton who worked closely with Gavin Williamson when he was chief whip, claimed he used “leverage” and threats to control MPs and instil a culture of fear in Westminster.
The Conservative MP Mark Francois said that when he used the word “Japs” in the Commons yesterday, he did not mean to cause offence, and was just trying to shorten a lengthy question.
Downing Street said Rishi Sunak is not going to block Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list after Labour has argued he should.
Downing Street refused to deny reports that the UK is close to agreeing a £80m deal with France that would involve British immigration officials being stationed in French control rooms to help tackle small boat Channel crossings.
Rishi Sunak wants the UK and its allies to use the forthcoming G20 summit to “confront” Vladimir Putin or any Russian representative who attends, the PM’s spokesperson said.
Government researchers have found another 1,400 laws that will be wiped off the statute books next year by Brexit legislation tabled by Jacob Rees-Mogg in September.
Matt Hancock has said “people will see me warts and all” and gain a perspective on the “human side of the guy behind the podium” ahead of his first full appearance on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! on Wednesday.
Hancock said: “When I’m in camp, people will just see the real me. Survival in the jungle is a good metaphor for the world I work in.
“People will see me warts and all. See the human side of the guy behind the podium. I don’t think I’ve got any fears or phobias, but I’m about to find out.”
The MP for West Suffolk’s decision to appear in the show has been criticised by the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, who said he was “very disappointed” in the former health secretary. It resulted in Hancock losing the Tory whip.
Here are some further comments from Dave Penman on BBC’s Newsnight about the investigation into alleged bullying by Williamson.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union - which represents senior public servants - said: “Gavin Williamson’s resignation might take some of the political pressure off the prime minister, but it mustn’t be a get out of jail free card.
“The allegations against him must still be investigated, and if substantiated, there must be consequences for any future appointment.”
Wednesday’s Guardian front page.
Here is a roundup of some of Wednesday’s front pages starting with the i:
Gavin Williamson said he would not be taking severance pay after resigning from the government.
“To dispel any speculation, I want to make it clear that I will not be taking any severance,” he said.
“This is taxpayers’ money and it should go instead toward the government’s priorities like reducing the NHS’s waiting lists.”
Rishi Sunak knew his premiership would be bound for a rocky start, but the embarrassing defenestration of one of his close cabinet allies after just two weeks threatens to reopen bitter divisions in the Conservative party.
Despite initial attempts to resist sacking Gavin Williamson after a slew of bullying allegations, the prime minister was forced on Tuesday to accept his resignation – not because of any admission of wrongdoing, but because it was becoming a “distraction”.
The official explanation for Williamson’s departure allows him to leave with slightly better grace than being sacked from cabinet for the third time, and lets the prime minister keep his own hands clean.
Rayner brands Sunak a "weak prime minister" after Williamson resigns
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This is a damning reflection of a weak Prime Minister.
“Rishi Sunak appointed Gavin Williamson with full knowledge of serious allegations about his conduct and repeatedly expressed confidence in him.
“This is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s poor judgment and weak leadership. It is clear that he is trapped by the grubby backroom deals he made to dodge a vote, and is incapable of putting country before party.
“As families struggle during a cost-of-living crisis made in Downing Street, yet another Tory government has descended into chaos.”
Accepting Sir Gavin Williamson’s resignation “with great sadness”, prime
minister Rishi Sunak said: “I would like to thank you for your personal support
The SNP’s deputy leader at Westminster Kirsten Oswald said: “Rishi Sunak promised integrity, professionalism and accountability at the heart of his Government - all of which has been trashed within weeks of taking office.
“The fact that Gavin Williamson was allowed to resign after a litany of scandals, rather than be sacked, speaks volumes of how toxic and broken this Tory Government is.
“As the Westminster chaos continues to unfurl, there can be no doubt that independence is the only way to escape this dysfunctional system for good.”
Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper has said in response to Gavin Williamson’s resignation, “This should be the third and final time Gavin Williamson is forced out of the Cabinet.”
Williamson’s letter, released on his Twitter account, says he refutes “the characterisation of these claims” regarding the further allegations of bullying that have been made.
But Williamson added in his resignation letter “I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing”.
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”.
Gavin Williamson resigns from government
Gavin Williamson has announced he is resigning.
Boris Johnson has nominated his fiercest cheerleaders for peerages, with two of his former aides set to become the youngest life peers in history.
The former prime minister has selected more than a dozen of his closest allies to head to the Lords, as part of a resignations list longer than David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s combined. Here are some of the key figures.
Formal complaint made against Williamson by former senior civil servant
A former senior civil servant who claimed Sir Gavin Williamson told them to “slit your throat” has made a formal complaint against him.
The allegations were first reported in the Guardian on Monday and included claims that Williamson, who was the defence secretary at the time, told the official on another occasion to “jump out of the window”.
The Ministry of Defence official claimed his behaviour amounted to a sustained campaign of bullying.
The official, who later left government, said Williamson “deliberately demeaned and intimidated” them on a regular basis.
The former civil servant told Sky News his “words and actions had an extreme impact on my mental health”.
Williamson, who ran the department between November 2017 until May 2019, said: “I strongly reject this allegation and have enjoyed good working relationships with the many brilliant officials I have worked with across government.
“No specific allegations have ever been brought to my attention.”
From the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti.
The next phase of a high-stakes inquiry into whether Boris Johnson misled parliament over Partygate faces being delayed as a result of government failures to provide crucial evidence to MPs, sources have told the Guardian.
Despite a range of documents – including the former prime minister’s diaries, event email invites, No 10 entry logs, briefing papers and WhatsApp messages – being requested more than three months ago, some have not been handed over yet.
The former Ministry of Defence official who claims they were bullied by Gavin Williamson has now complained to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, putting more pressure on Rishi Sunak over his decision to reappoint his ally, the Guardian can reveal, write Pippa Crerar and Rowena Mason.
In a statement, the complainant said they had an “incredibly difficult period” working for Williamson at the MoD and that the alleged bullying had taken “an extreme impact” on their mental health.
In a separate development, two further sources who spoke to the Guardian claimed that during his time as chief whip Williamson had been heard joking or boasting about the effect his tactics had on the mental health of those he worked with, with one saying it had “made people uncomfortable”.
Williamson, whose political future is now hanging in the balance, is now facing three separate inquiries into his behaviour, two with the ICGS and the other an internal Conservative party investigation. Two relate to the same incident involving the former chief whip Wendy Morton.
Ireland’s taoiseach (prime minister) has warned that if the current generation does not urgently step up to act on climate change, future generations will “not forgive us”.
Micheál Martin told the Cop27 climate summit in Egypt that Ireland was doing all it can to reach its climate targets.
Giving Ireland’s national climate statement at the c summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Martin said that as political leaders, it was their responsibility to drive the transformation necessary.
“What were once exceptional events are now occurring with increased frequency and ferocity.
“People in the poorest parts on the planet are being driven from regions that can no longer support and sustain them.
“Climate change is fuelling conflict, global instability, competition for resources and abject human misery.
“If this generation doesn’t step up urgently, future generations will not forgive us.”
Labour MP Sarah Owen, the first MP of south-east Asian heritage, has said she does not accept Mark Francois’s explanation for using the term “Japs” during proceedings in the Commons on Monday.
Francois said he “meant absolutely no disrespect or offence to anyone” by using the term and that he “merely used it as an abbreviation for Japanese”.
He said he had been asking an “admittedly rather wordy question, about naval shipbuilding” and “actually complimented the Japanese shipbuilding industry for building warships much faster than here in Britain”.
Owen said Francois should have just said “Japanese”.
She told Sky News: “We all know what he really meant. ‘Japs’ has a long history of being derogatory and should be avoided, in the same way we say ‘Pakistanis’ and ‘Chinese’, rather than short terms which have offensive connotations.”
A Plaid Cymru Senedd member has been suspended from his party’s group over allegations he breached the parliament’s code of conduct.
The party said Rhys ab Owen had been temporarily suspended pending the conclusion of an investigation by the Senedd standards commissioner.
Owen, a barrister, was first elected to represent the South Wales Central region in 2021.
A Plaid Cymru Senedd group spokesman said: “Rhys ab Owen MS, Plaid Cymru member of the Senedd for South Wales Central, and the Plaid Cymru group in the Senedd, have mutually agreed to his temporary suspension from the Plaid Cymru group.
“This is a neutral act, without prejudice, pending the conclusion of an investigation by the Senedd standards commissioner into an alleged breach of the code of conduct for members of the Senedd.”
Anne Milton has also accused Sir Gavin Williamson of behaving in an “unethical and immoral” way as chief whip.
Milton, who lost the Tory whip during the Brexit rows in 2019 and subsequently lost her seat, told Channel 4 News: “I got the impression that he loved salacious gossip, and would use it as leverage against MPs if the need arose.”
She also told the broadcaster that Williamson had an expletive-filled rant about civil servants in 2016 in response to a female official asking why a minister had to change travel plans for a vote.
“Always tell them to f*** off and if they have the bollocks to come and see me,” he said in an email, according to Ms Milton.
“F****** jumped up civil servants.”
Williamson accused of 'threatening' behaviour by former deputy chief whip
Anne Milton, the former deputy chief whip Anne Milton who worked closely with Sir Gavin Williamson when he was chief whip, has claimed he used “leverage” and threats to control MPs and instil a culture of fear in Westminster.
Milton told Channel 4 News of an alleged incident, when she says that the whips’ office gave some financial assistance to an MP: “I do remember him asking me to give the MP in question the cheque. And he waved it under my nose and said: ‘Make sure when you give him this cheque, he knows I now own him.’”
Milton said: “I don’t think it was a joke. It was the seriousness with which he said it. And I think that the bottom line is, if instances accord with your overall experience with somebody, then you believe them.”
She added that she gave the MP the cheque but didn’t pass on Williamson’s message.
Milton alleges Williamson behaved in an “unethical and immoral” and “shocking” manner during his time as chief whip between July 2016 and November 2017.
She also accused Williamson of using MPs’ mental and physical health problems as “leverage”.
Milton describes Williamson’s behaviour while chief whip as “threatening” and “intimidating”.
She added: “It’s an image he cultivates. I think he feels that he’s Francis Urquhart from House of Cards.”
Four Conservative MPs who were loyal to Boris Johnson and have been nominated for peerages have agreed to delay accepting them to avoid triggering byelections, writes Aletha Adu and Peter Walker.
Rishi Sunak is facing pressure to block the former PM’s “conveyor belt of cronies” after Johnson told Tory MPs to hold back on heading to the Lords until the end of the current parliament so the party doesn’t face a number of potentially difficult election challenges.
The ultra-loyal Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary; Alok Sharma, the Cop26 president; Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, and Nigel Adams are set to be on Johnson’s resignation list.
After it emerged that British immigration officers could be stationed in French control rooms for the first time under a new deal to curb Channel crossings, the work and pensions secretary, Mel Stride, hailed the “fundamental shift” in the tone of relations between Britain and France as officials thrashed out the final details of the deal.
He told Sky News: “The mood music seems to be good at the moment.
“My understanding is we’re in the final stages of what could be an agreement, which would be very good news.
“I think there has been a fundamental shift in the tone between ourselves and the French.”
The government said the fresh agreement between the UK and France, understood to be worth about £80m, is in its final stages.
An additional £5m of funding to tackle loss and damage has been announced by the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, at the Cop27 climate summit.
The funds take Scotland’s commitment to addressing loss and damage caused by the climate crisis to £7m and will enable communities to take direct action to address the impacts of loss and damage.
The government said this includes slow-onset effects such as sea level rise and non-economic effects including the loss of cultural identity.
It will also help to tackle existing inequalities, including gender inequalities, which are exacerbated by the effects of climate change.
The crisis at the Manston processing centre for refugees in Kent is not yet over, Dame Diana Johnson, the chair of the Commons home affairs committee has said.
In a statement released after her committee visited the centre today, Johnson, a Labour MP, said:
What the home affairs committee saw at Manston revealed that while overcrowding has reduced, and staff are making valiant efforts to improve conditions for detainees, the crisis is not over. We encountered families who had been sleeping on mats on the floor for weeks. Meanwhile there are ongoing questions about the legality of the home secretary’s decision to detain people at the site for longer than 24 hours.
The Home Office has been running to keep up with this escalating crisis, rather than warding it off at the outset through planning and preparation. The numbers of people crossing the Channel in small boats this year will not have been a surprise to the government, so why were adequate preparations not made? This question matters – because we may still see another major upsurge in the number of people arriving at Manston before the end of this year.
The home secretary needs to end this crisis once and for all. That requires dealing with the backlog in the asylum system and establishing a system that is efficient and fair.
That is all from me for today. My colleague Nadeem Badshah is now taking over.
Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, has criticised Rishi Sunak’s decision to give Sir Gavin Williamson ministerial responsibilities relating to communications and security.
According to the Cabinet Office, Williamson’s responsibilities will include the Government Communications Service and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The CSSF is a cross-government initiative that funds projects that contribute to national security – normally peace-keeping operations abroad, in places where instability could pose a threat to other countries.
Gavin Williamson has not only been given a vote of confidence by the prime minister but handed crucial national security and government communications responsibilities, despite having previously been sacked from cabinet of leaking details of a national security council meeting.
After a week of appalling allegations about intimidatory behaviour towards colleagues, the prime minister has rewarded Williamson by giving him authority over huge swathes of the civil service.
The fact Rishi Sunak appointed him and then promoted him shows a weak prime minister who puts party management before the national interest.
Tory MP Mark Francois says comment about Japanese 'an abbreviation' and not intended to cause offence
The Conservative MP Mark Francois has said that, when he used the word “Japs” in the Commons yesterday, he did not mean to cause offence, and was just trying to shorten a lengthy question.
In a statement responding to criticism of what he said from Labour (see 2.27pm), Francois also said he was complimenting the Japanese. He said:
I meant absolutely no disrespect or offence to anyone by using the phrase ‘Japs’ during defence questions in the House of Commons yesterday. I merely used it as an abbreviation for Japanese as I had, by then, been asking an admittedly rather wordy question, about naval shipbuilding.
Moreover, in the course of that same question, as the record clearly shows, I actually complimented the Japanese shipbuilding industry for building warships much faster than here in Britain.
Yvette Cooper intervenes. She asks if Quin has seen the conclusions of the leak inquiries involving Suella Braverman when she was attorney general. And did the PM see those before he appointed her?
Quin says successive governments have not commented on leak inquiries.
And the fact that a minister is considered by a leak inquiry does not mean they are at fault, he says. He says it just means they had access to the information that was leaked.
He says, if Labour’s motion were to pass, it would set a damaging precedent for the future.
Jeremy Quin, the Cabinet Office minister, is responding to Yvette Cooper on behalf of the government.
He says MPs should be debating more important matters, like the improvement in conditions at the Manston processing centre for migrants.
He says Suella Braverman set out in detail what led up to her resignation in the open letter she released.
The prime minister considered the matter was closed, and brought her back, he says.
Dame Meg Hillier says what matters is Braverman’s judgment. And her judgment has not improved after her six-day resignation.
Quin says Braverman recognises that she made an error. She apologised, and the mistake will not be repeated, he says.
Back in the Commons, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, says a series of Tory prime ministers have not taken security seriously.
And if Rishi Sunak is taking this seriously, the government should publish the papers requested by the motion, so MPs can see. She goes on:
[Sunak has] only been post two weeks and already we’ve got this chaos in place.
He said he wants to stand up for integrity – so enforce the ministerial code.
He said he wants professionalism – so appoint people who can do the job.
And he said he wants accountability – so support this motion and show some accountability to the house.
Sunak won't block peerages proposed by Johnson in his resignation honours, No 10 says
Downing Street has said Rishi Sunak is not going to block Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list, as Labour has argued he should. (See 3.34pm.) Asked if Sunak would block the peerages proposed by Johnson, the PM’s spokesperson replied:
There’s a longstanding convention that prime ministers do not seek to intervene in former prime ministers’ resignation honours lists. That’s been a case under successive governments. The prime minister is of the view that he will approach it as has been the case of successive governments.
Cooper says Braverman broke the ministerial code when she was home secretary. This was admitted in her account of her resignation.
But she may have also have broken the ministerial code by ignoring legal advice, she says. She says only yesterday Grant Shapps said the Home Office was close to acting illegally when he replaced her.
Gary Sambrook (Con) intervenes, and says Labour MPs supported making Jeremy Corbyn prime minister, even though he did not trust what the security services were saying regarding the Salisbury poisonings.
In response, Cooper says she was a backbencher at the time, and disagreed with Corbyn’s stance on that. She says Sambrook should be more worried about Boris Johnson, who attended a party where he met a former KGB officer, without his officials, when he was foreign secretary.
Cooper says Suella Braverman was involved in leak inquiries when she was attorney general. One of those leaks was quoted against the government in court, making it harder for the goverment to make its case, Cooper says.
She says Braverman should take standards seriously.
If the PM has confidence in the home secretary not to be careless with security, he should release the facts, she says.
She says she wants to know what information Rishi Sunak had about Braverman before he reappointed her. Was he advised not to reappoint her on security grounds?
If Sunak was told it was safe to reappoint her he should provide the evidence, she says. But if he was advised not to reappoint her, people should know.
MPs debate motion calling for release of papers relating to Braverman's reappointment and her involvement in leaks
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, is now opening the debate on the Labour motion that would force the government to publish government papers relating to the decision to reappoint Braverman as home secretary, and any security breaches or leak inquiries she was involved in.
She starts by listing some of the allegations against Braverman. But, as she makes the point that what has happened has undermined the government’s reputation for integrity, she also refers to Gavin Williamson getting a job despite having told an official to “slit your throat”.
She says outside the Tory party people find it hard to understand why Braverman was reappointed home secretary less than a week after having to resign.
No 10 says Sunak could take action on Williamson without waiting for all inquiries into him to conclude
At the afternoon lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson said that Rishi Sunak intends to wait until all the inquiries into Gavin Williamson are complete before deciding whether he should keep his job – but he did not rule out acting soon.
There are now three inquiries underway: a CCHQ one into the complaint from Wendy Morton; a parliamentary one into the same allegations; and a No 10 inquiry of some sort into the revelations in the Guardian today about Williamson telling an MoD official to “slit your throat”.
Asked when the PM might respond, the spokesperson indicated that although he was minded to wait until the external inquiries were concluded, he could act earlier. The spokesperson said:
I don’t think he necessarily feels that the idea would be for him to wait until both of those things [the CCHQ inquiry and the parliamentary inquiry] have fully concluded. Obviously he would act if and when he felt it appropriate to do so.
Five MPs are standing in the election for a new chair for the Commons Treasury committee. The previous chair, Mel Stride, has been made work and pensions secretary, and the post is open only to Conservative MPs. Nominations closed today and the five candidates are: Harriett Baldwin, John Baron, Richard Fuller, Andrea Leadsom, and Kit Malthouse. The ballot will take place tomorrow, with all MPs entitled to vote between 11am and 2.30pm.
The Cabinet Office has finally published the list of Sir Gavin Williamson’s ministerial responsibilities (or the portfolio for the minister without portfolio), and it appears that he will be overseeing all government spin doctors. That is because he has responsibility for the Government Communications Service.
He is also responsible for: the GREAT campaign, the Geospatial Commission, the Office of Government Property, the Government Property Agency, the Places for Growth strategy and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF).
The Cabinet Office also says Williamson will be responsible for supporting the Oliver Dowden, the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, “on driving the delivery of [the] government’s priorities”.
A group of MPs who sit on the home affairs, women and equalities and human rights parliamentary committees visited the Manston migrant processing centre in Kent after concerns were raised about overcrowding, PA Media reports.
Shortly after the delegation left, a man who shouted “help” and claimed he had been at the site for 30 days was seen being pinned up against a fence and dragged away by security guards when he tried to speak to members of the press.
Labour says Sunak should block Johnson's 'conveyor belt of cronies' proposed resignation peerages
Labour is urging Rishi Sunak to block the peerages in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list (see 10.55am), Dan Bloom reports for the Mirror. He quotes Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, saying Johnson’s plan to give peerages to four Tory MPs who would only take them up after the election amounts to a proposed “conveyor belt of cronies”. Rayner said:
This disgraced ex-prime minister’s plot to dodge democracy by trying to reward his MP lackeys with promised jobs for life in the House of Lords yet again puts the Tory party’s interests before the public’s.
These underhand attempt to game the system by installing a conveyor belt of cronies and skewing parliament in the Tories’ favour for decades to come should never see the light of day.
MPs are currently debating the Labour motion calling on the government to maintain the pensions triple lock in the 2023-24 financial year, and many backbench Tories have been making it clear that they agree that the triple lock should not be abandoned.
Opening the debate, Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, claimed that he could not say today what would happen because he had to wait until the autumn statement next week. But he strongly hinted that pensioners would be protected. He told MPs:
It’s only right that we are honest with the public and honest in this house about the ramifications of that situation and we are going see on November 17 some very difficult choices brought forward by the chancellor of the exchequer both on tax and spending.
This country has to demonstrate that it will live within its means, that it will act fiscally responsibly and as a consequence of that we can see bond yields softening, interest rates softening, which will be good for mortgage holders, good for businesses who are borrowing and good for the servicing costs of the government and its national debt.
But within those hard choices, there is a core mission that this government has and that is to look after the most vulnerable ... This government cares about those that have the least and is there to protect them at every turn.
Anne McElvoy from the Economist thinks that it is now inevitable that Gavin Williamson will have to go.
Tory MP Mark Francois criticised for 'crass racial slur' in Commons about Japanese
The Conservative MP Mark Francois has been accused of using a “crass racial slur” about the Japanese in the House of Commons.
Sarah Owen, a Labour MP and chair of East Asians and South-East Asians for Labour, used a point of order today to criticise Francois, and other Tories who have used offensive language about Asians.
During defence questions in the Commons on Monday Francois asked:
Given the defence budget is likely to come under great pressure, why does it take BAE Systems 11 years to build a ship the Japs can build in four?
Raising her point of order, Owen said that referring to Japanese people as “Japs” was an “outdated and crass racial slur” that was well below the standard expected in the Commons.
Referring to an article in the Sunday Times asking why there are just two MPs of eastern Asian or south-east Asian heritage in the Commons (Owen and the Tory Alan Mak), despite there being 1.2 million people from this group in the country, she went on:
Perhaps it is comments like this by [Francois] or ‘the little man in China’ trope trotted out by a government minister last week, or when the former leader of the House [Jacob Rees-Mogg] said the word ‘Yellow Peril’ from that despatch box.
Rees-Mogg subsequently apologised for his remarks, saying he did not know that what he had said was racist and that his use of the term was “out of ignorance”.
In response Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, said “the casual use of racial terms causes upset and should not be used”.
Afterwards a Labour party source said:
If there was ever any doubt, the nasty party is firmly back.
Mark Francois may need reminding that it is 2022, not 1940. He should apologise for this language.
UPDATE: Francois later issued a statement saying he did not mean to cause offence. See 5.01pm.
The Liberal Democrats are calling for an independent Cabinet Office inquiry into the the report that Sir Gavin Williamson told an official to “slit your throat” and to jump out of a window when he was defence secretary. The Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine said:
The Conservatives must not be allowed to mark their own homework. We need an independent inquiry now to address these damning allegations about Gavin Williamson’s conduct.
Anything less would be an abdication of leadership from Number 10, and make a mockery of Sunak’s promise to govern with integrity.
Downing Street has said that there will be some sort of inquiry into this allegation, but it has not given details of what this will involve. (See 12.18pm, 12.28pm and 12.31pm.)
No 10 refuses to deny report UK close to signing £80m deal with France to improve border control cooperation
Much of the Downing Street lobby briefing was taken up with questions about Sir Gavin Williamson. But here are the key lines on the other topics that came up.
Downing Street refused to deny reports that the UK is close to agreeing a £80m deal with France that would involve British immigration officials being stationed in French control rooms to help tackle small boat Channel crossings. Asked about the reports, the PM’s spokesperson said:
I’ve seen obviously a lot of detail this morning speculating on what might be in a future deal. There are still discussions ongoing so I can’t get into that sort of speculation at this stage.
One of the reports on the imminent deal is by Matt Dathan in the Times. He says:
Britain and France are in the “final stages” of agreeing a deal worth about £80 million that will lead to UK immigration officials being stationed in French control rooms for the first time.
The agreement is expected to pay for an increase in the 800 daily patrols that at present are carried out by French officers, as well as extra surveillance equipment to detect boats before they enter the water …
In what the government hopes will be a crucial breakthrough, the new deal is expected to allow Border Force staff to be stationed alongside their French counterparts in control rooms. It will mean British officers will receive live intelligence on people-smuggling activity and migrant movements in northern France for the first time, rather than relying on information being passed on under the existing limited intelligence-sharing deal.
Rishi Sunak wants the UK and its allies to use the forthcoming G20 summit to “confront” Vladimir Putin or any Russian representative who attends, the PM’s spokesperson said. Asked if Sunak would sit down with Putin if he did attend, the spokesperson said that was a hypothetical question, because Putin has not said yet if he is attending. But the spokesperson said:
The prime minister is of the view that it would be right that collectively with our allies we confront any Russian official ... who attends the G20 about their ongoing illegal war and use the same messages we have been using in one voice for so many months now.
Cabinet agreed that restoring devolved government in Northern Ireland is an “absolute priority”, the spokesperson said. He said Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, will make a statement to MPs on this topic tomorrow.
The spokesperson confirmed that the government has no plans to introduce ID cards. (See 11.41am.)
And the spokesperson said reform of the House of Lords was not an “immediate priority” for the government. He said:
The House of Lords plays an important and valuable role in scrutinising and revising legislation. We are committed to looking at the role of the Lords but it needs to be carefully considered in the round. Further reform is not an immediate priority as we tackle some of the issues that the UK faces.
Earlier Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, said the Lords should be reformed. (See 10.56am.)
Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, says that, in appointing Gavin Williamson and keeping him in office, Rishi Sunak is making an “appalling error of judgment”.
At the No 10 lobby briefing it was put to the PM’s spokesperson that, if Rishi Sunak kept Gavin Williamson in office, he would be giving carte blanche to ministers to tell their officials to slit their throats. Not surprisingly, the spokesperson did not accept this. He went on:
The prime minister has been clear about the approach that he wants from ministers, and the high standards that they will be held to. I think the public would understand that, in order to achieve that, you need to follow the correct processes before setting out any further action.
Yesterday the Cabinet Office said it was not yet able to give details of what Gavin Williamson will be doing in his capacity as a minister without portfolio. No 10 said he would deal with the GREAT Britain & Northern Ireland marketing campaign. Today the PM’s spokesperson identified two more projects that Williamson would be working on. He said that Williamson would be involved in the Places for Growth, a scheme aimed at reducing regional disparities, including by moving civil servants out of London, and in the Geospatial commission, a body that oversees the use of location data.
Asked when people would find out the results of the No 10 inquiries into the “slit your throat” allegations about Gavin Williamson, the PM’s spokesperson said: "We will update in due course.”
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson was asked to confirm that No 10 would be looking into the allegation that Gavin Williamson told an official to “slit your throat” regardless of whether or not a formal complaint was submitted. The spokesperson implied that was the case. He said:
These are serious allegations, they are new allegations, and, before commenting further, we want to take time to consider.
No 10 says further checks being made into 'serious' claim Williamson told official to 'slit your throat'
The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished, and it sounds as if Rishi Sunak is not minded to ignore the new revelation about Gavin Williamson telling an official, when he was defence secretary, to “slit your throat”.
In response, Williamson issued a statement to the Guardian saying:
I strongly reject this allegation and have enjoyed good working relationships with the many brilliant officials I have worked with across government. No specific allegations have ever been brought to my attention.
It is understood that Williamson meant by this that he was only rejecting the allegation that he was a bully. He is not denying that he used the words attributed to him, and that is what Downing Street understands his statement to mean, too.
At the lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson said Sunak continued to have full confidence in Williamson. But he went on:
Obviously there have been further allegations reported this morning. Those are serious allegations that have come in. It is true that no formal complaint has been made, but we want to consider proper processes before commenting further.
At another point the spokesperson said Downing Street would be “checking due process” before commenting further. Asked if the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team would be involved in this, the spokesperson said he would not discuss the process.
This is serious for Williamson. No 10 could have just have said: “Williamson has denied this, there has been no formal complaint,” and left it at that. But it hasn’t.
UK government finds extra 1,400 laws to scrap under Rees-Mogg’s Brexit bill
Government researchers have found another 1,400 laws that will be wiped off the statute books next year by Brexit legislation tabled by Jacob Rees-Mogg in September, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports.
Kit Malthouse, the former policing minister, told Times Radio that he would be opposed to the introduction of ID cards as part of asylum system reform. (See 11.41am.) Malthouse said:
I would be jumpy about us all having ID cards. It’s not far to jump from that to us all having a barcode tattooed on us at birth. And if the requirement is we have to carry our ID cards at all times, to be able to present them at all times to identify ourselves, it does start to become a little bit heavy handed.
I think the solution to the Channel problem lies in a much better deal with the French and I think that that’s what the prime minister will pull off in the weeks to come.
Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, says Wendy Morton’s decision to submit her complaint about Gavin Williamson to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (see 8.50am) shows a lack of confidence in the Conservative party’s own complaints system. She said:
The lack of faith in the Conservative party complaints process shows how rotten the culture at the heart of this party goes – and the buck stops with Rishi Sunak.
He was warned about Gavin Williamson’s behaviour and appointed him anyway. He has done grubby deal after grubby deal to become prime minister and now must take responsibility and stop putting party management before national interest.
Yvette Cooper rejects call from shadow minister for Labour to consider ID cards as part of asylum system reform
Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, has said Labour should consider introducing ID cards as one policy that might help to curb the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats. In an interview with Matt Chorley on Times Radio, Kinnock said that most EU countries use ID cards. It is argued that the absence of ID cars in the UK is a pull factor for migrants, because it makes it much easier for them to work illegally in the black economy than it would be in Europe.
The last Labour government proposed introducing a national ID card system, but the idea attracted considerable opposition because of concerns about civil liberties and only a limited scheme for foreign nationals came into effect. After 2010 it was scrapped by the coalition government. But Kinnock said he thought those problems could be addressed. He said:
It can’t be beyond the wit of man to look at this and put a system in place that both addresses the issues around civil liberties, but also make sure that we know who is living in our country, and how many people are living in our country.
And that will just be so helpful in terms of giving people the reassurance that they’re looking for, that we have control of our borders, and that we don’t have the complete and utter shambles and incompetence and cruelty frankly, that defines the current government.
Kinnock also said that one of the problems with the scheme proposed by the last Labour government was that it would have included too much information on ID cards. He said having a “very basic” form of ID card would be more acceptable to people.
Tony Blair was prime minister when Labour floated the ID card plan and his thinktank, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, published a report last week suggesting ID cards should be part of a plan for reforming the asylum system. “The lack of an identity verification scheme and the diminished capacity to return those with invalid cases to other countries means there remains a strong incentive for asylum seekers to try their luck in order to then ‘disappear’ into the black economy,” it said.
But Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary and Kinnock’s boss, dismissed the idea when she was interviewed on the Today programme this morning. Asked if Labour was considering ID cards, she said the problem was not the lack of ID cards, but the lack of employment enforcement. She went on:
So we would have stronger employment enforcement and proper standards in place, as well as the stronger action to crack down on the criminal gangs.
UPDATE: I have amended the post above to say that, although the last Labour government failed to roll out a national ID card scheme, it did introduce a limited scheme for foreign nationals (which was subsequently scrapped).
Sima Kotecha, Newsnight’s UK editor, has spoken to Tory MPs who are not surprised about the allegations about Sir Gavin Williamson being a bully.
Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary, has said that if Alistair Jack, the Scottish secretary, was confident about defending his record at an election, he would not be getting ready to accept a peerage. Referring to today’s Times story (see 10.55am), Murray said:
With Labour ready to replace this rotten Tory government, it’s little wonder that ministers are desperately looking for an escape route. But if Tory politicians had any confidence in their shameful record they would stand in front of the people and defend it in a general election now.
A spokesperson for Jack said:
We cannot comment on speculation about peerages. Alister Jack is absolutely committed to representing his constituents and working with the prime minister to continue to deliver for people in Scotland.
Stride says Lords needs reform as Johnson reportedly planning to include two young aides on resignation honours peerage list
In an interview this morning Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, said the House of Lords should be reformed. He was speaking in response to questions prompted by a story claiming that Boris Johnson wants to include two young political aides on the list of people getting peerages in his resignation honours.
Stride told Times Radio:
If your question is does the … House of Lords need reform? I think absolutely. Not least to the point you’re making: its size, which has now grown to, I think, over 800 members, which is larger than the Chinese Communist party’s central committee. I do think there is scope for change, but it is one of those things that has been very difficult to get political consensus on.
In her Times story Lara Spirit says Johnson has nominated Ross Kempsell, 30, and Charlotte Owen, who is thought to be in her late 20s, for the Lords. Spirit says they would be the youngest people ever to receive life peerages. She says:
Kempsell, a former journalist, recently stepped down as the Conservative party’s political director. Owen, who graduated from university in 2015, had been a parliamentary assistant to Sir Jake Berry, the former party chairman, and Johnson before joining the No 10 policy unit last year. She later worked jointly for Liz Truss and Wendy Morton, at that time the chief whip.
Spirit says Johnson has nominated around 20 people in total for peerages. She says others on the list include the Tory MPs Nadine Dorries, Alok Sharma, Alister Jack and Nigel Adams; former No 10 aides Dan Rosenfield and Ben Gascoigne; David Ross, the Tory donor and Carphone Warehouse founder who funded a holiday for Johnson and his wife in a luxury villa in Mustique in December 2019; Paul Dacre, the former Daily Mail editor; Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley mayor; and Shaun Bailey, the former Tory mayoral candidate for London.
The MPs have reportedly agreed to delay taking their peerages until the end of this parliament, to avoid the need for byelections.
Sources close to Johnson did not deny the report, PA Media reports.
Asked about the Times story, Stride said it would not be right for him to “start opining on individual appointments”.
Labour has demanded a debate in parliament over the government’s failure to publish its clean air and water targets, which put ministers in contravention of the Environment Act.
The government was supposed to publish a set of environment targets on 31 October, but admitted it had not had time to respond to the consultation which would determine them.
The shadow environment minister, Alex Sobel, said in a letter to the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey:
The government’s failure to abide by the rules it has set itself is not only a dereliction of duty nationally, which is likely to trigger an investigation by the Office of Environmental Protection, but it is also an international embarrassment.
Sobel said MPs should be allowed to debate the matter, and that Coffey should reveal what legal advice she had had about the delay, and when the targets would be published.
Stride suggests triple lock for pensions set to remain in place, saying government 'absolutely' committed to protecting older people
In his interviews this morning Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, hinted strongly that the government will keep the triple lock in place for pensions – which would mean that next year they would rise by 10.1%.
When Liz Truss was prime minister she said the government remained committed to the triple lock. Under Rishi Sunak almost every government spending commitment is under review, pending the autumn statement next week, but ministers have said they want to continue to protect vulnerable people.
Stride told Times Radio that Sunak has been “extremely clear” that pensioners will be protected. He said:
The way the Conservatives in government have always seen pensioners is that they are a group that have particular vulnerabilities. They find it difficult to change their economic circumstances – certainly in the short term, for example, by going back into work, and therefore we have introduced things like the triple lock …
So pensioners are absolutely at the forefront of the group that we want to really protect as much as we can through these difficult times.
Grant Shapps, the business secretary, has said Sir Gavin Williamson has apologised for sending abusive messages to a colleague. As PA Media reports, Shapps, asked while arriving in Downing Street for cabinet this morning if Williamson was a bully, replied:
Not in my experience. Clearly he shouldn’t have sent those [messages], he’s recognised that and he’s apologised about it.
Speaking about the “slit your throat” comment, Shapps added: “I don’t think there was a formal complaint, so let’s wait and see what’s said about that.”
There have not been many Tories willing to defend Gavin Williamson, but yesterday Nick Timothy, who was co-chief of staff to Theresa May when Williamson was chief whip, put a thread on Twitter praising his political skills and saying Rishi Sunak should keep him. Timothy describes Williamson as “the best chief whip the party has had in decades”.
Minister refuses to fully endorse Williamson, saying telling offical to slit throat would be 'utterly, utterly unacceptable'
Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, drew the Downing Street short straw this morning and was on the airwaves having to defend Sir Gavin Williamson, as well as taking questions on other matters. “Defend” is probably the wrong word, because Stride’s support for his colleague was half-hearted at best, and in key respects he cut him loose. Here are the key points.
Stride said it would have been “utterly, utterly unacceptable” if Williamson had told a senior civil servant to “slit your throat” and “jump out of the window”. He told Sky News:
If that is the case, that is utterly, utterly unacceptable, but at the moment it is in the realm of media speculation.
Williamson has issued a generalised denial in response to the Guardian story, saying that he had good working relations with his officials. But he has not denied using the words attributed to him, described as “utterly, utterly unacceptable” by Stride.
Stride confirmed that Williamson’s messages to Wendy Morton were now the subject of a parliamentary investigation.
Stride said that a decision about Williamson’s future could be taken once the inquiry was over. He also suggested there could be further inquiries. He said:
I think the important thing we do now is not to start intervening … and opining on who’s right and wrong or what may or may not have happened, but to wait for the results of that investigation.
And then when we have that, and any other investigation that may be triggered in the meantime, then I think we can take stock and come to a firm conclusion.
Stride stressed that no minister was unsackable.
Stride said that Williamson, a former chief whip, deserved a seat at the cabinet table because of his understanding of Tory MPs. He told Times Radio:
I think Gavin is somebody who … has particular talents and a particular understanding of the parliamentary party.
Stride said that he “suspects” Williamson will still be a minister at Christmas.
Gavin Williamson under increasing pressure to resign as he faces new bullying inquiry
Good morning. Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s communications chief, is credited with devising a rule saying that, if a scandal continues to dominate the news for more than a certain number of days, the minister involved in it has to go. No one is quite sure what the exact number of days is (13, 11, a week? Campbell himself has forgotten), but the basic principle is sound, and that should be very worrying for Sir Gavin Williamson, the beleaguered Cabinet Office minister. On Friday last week Cat Neilan from Tortoise revealed that Wendy Morton, the former chief whip, had submitted a complaint to CCHQ about Williamson. The story has now reached day five and, far from going away, it’s snowballing. Here are the key developments this morning.
A senior civil servant claims Gavin Williamson told them to “slit your throat” in what they felt was a sustained campaign of bullying while he was defence secretary, my colleague Pippa Crerar has revealed.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, has described the language used by Williamson in these incidents as “just horrible”. In an interview with the Today programme, she also pointed out that, despite issuing a generalised denial, Williamson is not denying using the language quoted in Pippa’s report. Cooper said:
He doesn’t deny using the language. The language is horrible and you can’t imagine people being treated like that at work.
Gavin Williamson was reappointed to the cabinet even when Rishi Sunak knew there was a new complaint in against him. He has admitted that the language, even in the previous complaint, was unacceptable.
Bear in mind he has also appointed him to the Cabinet Office, which supports the National Security Council – even though Gavin Williamson was previously sacked by Theresa May for leaking from the National Security Council.
We have also got this other case where Rishi Sunak reappointed Suella Braverman just six days after she was effectively sacked for breaching the ministerial code and security lapses, and where further information and allegations have also come to light since then of security lapses and the leak investigation as well.
You have got this lack of proper standards, a lack of ethics. We have still not got an ethics adviser appointed and [the Tories are] also not taking security issues seriously.
Morton has referred her complaint about Williamson to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, the parliamentary scheme set up to consider bullying allegations against MPs. Previously she complained to CCHQ. This development is serious for Williamson because ICGS investigations are particularly rigorous and impartial, whereas CCHQ investigations are less independent, and more opaque. The ICGS can also recommend the suspension of an MP as punishment. This new development was revealed by the Times’s Steven Swinford.
Nicky Morgan, the former education secretary, has said that based on her experience of Williamson when she was in government, she is not surprised by the allegations about him. “Unfortunately Gavin has a reputation, it’s not a very nice one, and I really don’t know why Rishi Sunak felt he had to have him back in government,” she said. Asked if Williamson should be sacked, Morgan also said it would be “very difficult” for Sunak not to demand his resignation. She said it would be better for Williamson to resign first. She made the comments on Talk TV last night.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Morning: Sunak chairs cabinet.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
11.30am: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
After 12.30pm: MPs begin a debate on a Labour motion saying the government should maintain the triple lock for the 2023-24 financial year.
1.10pm (UK time): Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, speaks at a panel discussion at Cop27 on loss and damage.
Around 4pm: MPs begin a debate on a Labour motion that would force the government to publish government papers relating to the decision to reappoint Braverman as home secretary, and any security breaches or leak inquiries she was involved in.
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