After a senior supporter was accused of bullying a colleague, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is dealing with growing dissent within his ruling Conservative Party as concerns about his judgement are raised.
Following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September, Wendy Morton, the chief enforcer in the short-lived government of former premier Liz Truss, filed a complaint regarding a slew of vulgar text messages Gavin Williamson made to her. Morton accused Williamson of keeping him off the guest list for the Queen’s burial, but Williamson, who Sunak named to his Cabinet this month but was a backbench MP at the time, said there was a “price for everything.”
The correspondence was leaked, revealing the frailty of the party’s unity despite the messages’ echoes of the bitter internal disputes between Tory MPs under Truss’s tenure.
In response to the government’s latest apparent breakdown in order, the Labour Party pounced, with deputy leader Angela Rayner alleging Sunak is prioritising the interests of his party before those of the nation.
Breaches of security
Just before Sunak won the leadership election and chose Williamson, Morton filed a formal complaint with the Tory party. Just a few weeks into his tenure as premier, Sunak was forced to justify his choice to select Home Secretary Suella Braverman, six days after Truss sacked her for a security breach, raising further questions about his decisions.
Since then, Braverman has become the focus of allegations that she made decisions that resulted in the unjustified detention of thousands of people at a detention facility. Theresa May fired Williamson as defence secretary in 2019 over claims that he had divulged sensitive material.
Sunak was aware of a tense dynamic between Williamson and Morton when he selected him, according to Oliver Dowden, head of his cabinet office, though he hadn’t seen the specifics of the text conversations. The messages are unacceptable, yet Sunak still trusts Dowden to remain a part of his cabinet, according to Dowden.
Sunak is currently avoiding the drama playing out at home. He made the last-minute decision to go to the COP27 climate summit hosted by the United Nations in Egypt, where he would be meeting French President Emmanuel Macron. He had previously intended to miss the conference, but he decided against it after several people questioned his dedication to the fight against climate change.
With his international debut, Sunak will have to deal with the fallout from leaving a party that is still torn apart. He may finally be forced to make a difficult choice about what to do with Williamson, a devoted ally who supported him in his bid for leadership, as a result of this conundrum.