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UK minister Gavin Williamson resigns from post following bullying allegations

<i>Henry Nicholls/Reuters/FILE</i><br/>British cabinet office minister Gavin Williamson
Henry Nicholls/Reuters/FILE
British cabinet office minister Gavin Williamson

By Sugam Pokharel, Tara John and Jorge Engels, CNN

British cabinet office minister Gavin Williamson resigned from his role on Tuesday following recent allegations of bullying, saying the accusations against him were “becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing.”

“As you know, there is an ongoing complaints process concerning text messages I sent to a colleague,” Williamson said in his resignation letter, addressed to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“I am complying with this process and I have apologized to the recipient for those messages. Since then, there have been other allegations made about my past conduct. I refute the characterization of these claims, but I recognize these are becoming a distraction for the good work this government is doing for the British people,” he added in the letter.

“I have therefore decided to step back from government so that I can comply fully with the complaints process that is underway and clear my name of any wrongdoing,” Williamson said.

Sunak accepted his resignation “with great sadness,” according to PA news agency. “I would like to thank you for your personal support and loyalty,” Sunak said.

Williamson’s current stint in government only lasted for 14 days. Considered a close Sunak ally, Williamson had faced growing calls to quit following bullying allegations.

Former deputy chief whip Anne Milton described Williamson’s conduct five years ago, when he was the chief whip, as “threatening” and “intimidating,” in an interview with Channel 4 news released on Tuesday.

Milton, who worked alongside Williamson in the whip’s office — which enforces party discipline — also described his behavior as “unethical and immoral.”

“I got the impression that he loved salacious gossip and would use it as leverage against MPs if the need arose,” Milton told broadcaster.

Williamson has not yet publicly reacted to Milton’s claims. CNN has reached out to the lawmaker for comment.

Williamson said later on Tuesday he will not be taking any severance pay after resigning, writing on Twitter that “this is taxpayers’ money, and it should go instead toward the government’s priorities like reducing the National Health Service’s waiting lists.”

The Conservative Party lawmaker was previously fired from his post as defense minister in 2019 by then-Prime Minister Theresa May over the leaking of a key decision related to the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei.

May’s decision followed an inquiry into how the Daily Telegraph newspaper discovered that the UK government was preparing to give Huawei access to parts of the country’s 5G mobile network. Williamson at the time “strenuously” denied he was the source of the leak, in a letter posted to his Twitter account.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson later appointed him as Secretary of State for Education, an ill-fated brief which saw Williamson preside over a controversial exam grading algorithm during the Covid-19 pandemic, as testing could not take place. The grading system was scrapped after widespread anger from parents, students and educators.

Williamson also made waves by appearing to confuse two major Black British sports stars, telling an interviewer he had spoken to Manchester United soccer player Marcus Rashford — who has been campaigning for free school meals for children in need during the pandemic — when in fact he had met with rugby player Maro Itoje.

Johnson removed him from the role in 2021 during a cabinet reshuffle.

Williamson is also a former ex-chief whip, and before his resignation Tuesday, held a position as Minister without Portfolio in Sunak’s government.

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