British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak expressed regret Wednesday for appointing a disgraced ally whose resignation drew harsh criticism of the new leader’s political judgment.
Gavin Williamson resigned late Tuesday from Sunak’s new government following allegations that he had sent menacing messages to lawmakers and former colleagues.
Sunak named Williamson as an all-purpose fixer and policy enforcer when he became prime minister last month, despite his ally being twice forced to resign from the cabinet in the past.
“I obviously regret appointing someone who has had to resign in these circumstances,” Sunak told opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer in parliament.
“Unequivocally the behaviour complained of was unacceptable,” he added, while stressing he did not know of “specific concerns” about Williamson arising from his past government roles.
Starmer used the resignation to portray Sunak as weak, after he also appointed Suella Braverman as interior minister to appease Conservative right-wingers despite questions over her own competence.
The Labour leader noted that Williamson, when he served as the government’s chief whip in charge of party discipline, had kept a tarantula in his office.
If Sunak is unable to stand up to a “cartoon bully with a pet spider… what chance does he have of running the country?” Starmer said.
The prime minister insisted his government would be characterised by “integrity, professionalism and accountability”, after the rapid-fire exits of his predecessors Boris Johnson and Liz Truss this year.
Williamson, 46, was sacked twice as a minister in the past by Johnson and by former premier Theresa May — the latter for leaking classified information when he was defence secretary.