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No 10 says checks being made into ‘serious’ claim Williamson told official to ‘slit your throat’ – UK politics live

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.

But it is understood that Williamson only 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 spokeperson 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 said ‘Williamson has denied this, there has been no formal complaint’, and left it at that. But it hasn’t.

Key events

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At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson was asked to confirm that No 10 would be looking into the allegtion 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.

But it is understood that Williamson only 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 spokeperson 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 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 gave up in the face of opposition concerned about the impact on civil liberties. 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.

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.

One tory MP’s voice trembles with rage as he tells me “Williamson is a nasty b****** and knows where the skeletons are buried. He’s given me a few sleepless nights. Yeah politics is about being tough and pushing ppl to do what you want them to but this is on another level”

— Sima Kotecha (@sima_kotecha) November 8, 2022

When asked do you believe allegations made against him, the MP replies “100%. No doubt whatsoever”. Sir Gavin Williamson denies further accusations of bullying

— Sima Kotecha (@sima_kotecha) November 8, 2022

Another tory MP tells me “so many of us were stunned when he (Williamson) was brought back in govt. Quite frightening too”.

Several MPs have echoed this sentiment. Cultural Qs to be asked about Westminster – is this alleged behaviour expected or unacceptable? He denies bullying

— Sima Kotecha (@sima_kotecha) November 8, 2022

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.

Left to right: David TC Davies, Welsh secretary, Andrew Mitchell, development minister, John Glen, chief secretary to the Treasury, and Michael Gove, levelling up secretary, leaving No 10 after cabinet this morning. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

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”.

Helena Horton

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.

Mel Stride arriving for cabinet this morning.
Mel Stride arriving for cabinet this morning. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

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.”

Grant Shapps, the business secretary, arriving for cabinet this morning.
Grant Shapps, the business secretary, arriving for cabinet this morning. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

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”.

There are plenty of attacks (mostly anonymous) on Gavin Williamson today. But there are good reasons why all but one prime minister since 2010 has wanted him at their side (1/n).

— Nick Timothy (@NJ_Timothy) November 7, 2022

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.

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.

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.

Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride says messages sent by Sir Gavin Williamson are “unacceptable”, but “he has apologised”.

He adds that no one is “unsackable”, not even Prime Ministers.

More here: https://t.co/Md0GsEmQae

📺 Sky 501, Virgin 602, Freeview 233 and YouTube pic.twitter.com/5UfCVRb1ti

— Sky News (@SkyNews) November 8, 2022

  • 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.

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.

  • 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.

Exclusive:

Wendy Morton, former chief whip, is escalating her complaint against Gavin Williamson amid concerns about ‘whitewash’ by Conservative Party

She’s referring it to Independent Complaints & Grievance Scheme, which investigates most serious caseshttps://t.co/2m23n03flP

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) November 8, 2022

Allies of Wendy Morton say she is concerned Rishi Sunak is expressing full confidence in Gavin Williamson and fears it will prejudice investigation by Tory party

There are also concerns that it could be delayed for months

ICGS can recommend suspension or expulsion of MPs

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) November 8, 2022

  • 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. 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.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions and, if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected]



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