Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has said Sir Gavin Williamson was right to resign from the cabinet over bullying claims.
Sir Gavin’s departure on Tuesday evening came shortly after an ex-civil servant – who claimed the MP told them to “slit your throat” – made a formal complaint.
A Number 10 source told Sky News it was Sir Gavin’s decision to resign following further allegations being laid at his door.
He is understood to have spoken to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the early evening to offer his resignation.
In his resignation letter, the former cabinet minister vowed to clear his name of wrongdoing – and said he “refutes the characterisation of these claims”.
“I recognise these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing,” Sir Gavin wrote to Mr Sunak.
Sir Gavin – who had already been sacked by Theresa May and Boris Johnson – has also been accused of sending expletive-laden messages to former chief whip Wendy Morton where he complained about being refused an invitation to the Queen’s funeral.
He was also the subject of claims he bullied a former official at the Ministry of Defence and engaged in “unethical and immoral” behaviour while he was chief whip.
Probed on whether Sir Gavin was right to resign, Ms Keegan told Sky News: “Yes, I think it is.
“He said it was a distraction and it is a distraction because we’ve got really sort of serious things that we need to navigate – navigating these economic times is going to be quite tricky.”
She added: “I think Gavin did the right thing by resigning.”
Discussing the allegations Sir Gavin is facing, Ms Keegan noted that “it is inappropriate to use anybody’s mental health against them”.
She added that Sir Gavin had “apologised” for the “unacceptable” messages sent to a colleague.
Late last night, Sir Gavin said he would not be taking severance pay, tweeting: “This is taxpayers’ money and it should go instead toward the government’s priorities like reducing the NHS’s waiting lists.”
Mr Sunak will face PMQs this afternoon, hours after his ally Sir Gavin quit over the bullying claims.
Accepting the resignation “with great sadness”, Mr Sunak told Sir Gavin: “I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty.”
The prime minister’s judgement is being questioned after suggestions he appointed Sir Gavin to a senior role despite being aware of an investigation related to his behaviour.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said yesterday’s events show “yet another Tory government has descended into chaos”.
“This is yet another example of Rishi Sunak’s poor judgement 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,” she said.
While Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper said: “This should be the third and final time Gavin Williamson is forced out of the cabinet.”
She continued: “Rishi Sunak has serious questions to answer about why he appointed Gavin Williamson, then stood by him instead of sacking him. His promise to lead a government of integrity has now been left in tatters.”
Senior Tory MPs have alleged to Sky News that Sir Gavin “has been bullying for most of his career” and that his behaviour has “always been well known”.
One senior Tory MP, who was in cabinet with Sir Gavin, told Sky News: “He’s a bully no two ways about it, it’s well known, it’s always been well known.
“His only talent is bullying. It was a mistake for Rishi to give him a job.”
The senior MP also claimed Sir Gavin, who was chief whip under Mrs May “modelled his whipping style” on US drama House of Cards.
Another senior Tory MP was even more disparaging of Sir Gavin, calling him “an absolute little sh***” who “should never have been allowed in government”.
The MP called his appointment to Mr Sunak’s cabinet “beyond the pale” adding: “I’d be surprised if the Cabinet Office didn’t warn the PM there would be a dim view taken if he was given a job.
“I have no idea on earth why anyone would employ him, he’s been bullying for most of his career.
“The spider in the box, the idea he’s got something over somebody… it astonished us all when he got into cabinet.”
The MP went on: “Thoroughly incompetent, thoroughly pathetic. He’s a nasty piece of work, who adds no value whatsoever. Rishi thinks he owes him, he doesn’t. If Gavin Williamson is the answer I don’t know what the hell the question is.”
Sky News has approached Sir Gavin for comment.
Sir Gavin’s third stint in the cabinet was by far his shortest, having made his return to the government only two weeks ago, when Mr Sunak appointed him as a minister without portfolio in the Cabinet Office.