Rishi Sunak knew there was a “difficult relationship” between Gavin Williamson and former chief whip Wendy Morton, but “wasn’t aware” of “specific allegations” until “last night” – a cabinet minister has told Sky News.

Speaking on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden said the PM still has confidence in Sir Gavin – who was appointed as a Cabinet Office minister in the recent reshuffle – and that there are no current plans to remove him from his post.

It has been alleged that Sir Gavin sent abusive text messages to the-then chief whip complaining that he and other colleagues had been excluded from the Queen’s funeral for political reasons.

Shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband called for an “urgent independent investigation” into the matter.

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Mr Dowden said Sir Gavin “regrets the language he used”.

And he also suggested that a number of individuals had a difficult relationship with Ms Morton.

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Screenshots leaked to The Sunday Times appear to show expletive-laden messages from the South Staffordshire MP, including a warning that “there is a price for everything”.

Another message reads “think very poor how [Privy Councillors] who aren’t favoured have been excluded from the funeral”.

A source confirmed to Sky News the contents of the messages were accurate.

Asked about the allegations, Mr Dowden told Sky News: “Well, the prime minister knew that there was a difficult relationship.

“And I think as you’ve seen from the the former chairman, Jake Berry, he says that he highlighted that to the prime minister.

“But in terms of these specific allegations, this specific exchange, the prime minister wasn’t aware of it until last night.”

Mr Dowden continued: “He shouldn’t have sent those messages. And he says that he regrets it. But of course, the prime minister continues to have confidence in Gavin Williamson as minister.”

But, speaking after Mr Dowden, Mr Miliband described the matter as “incredibly serious” and said it “calls into question, Rishi Sunak’s judgement and the way he made decisions about his cabinet”.

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“We already know about the whole Suella Braverman issue being reappointed six days after she resigned,” he said.

“It was very noticeable on your show that Oliver Dowden couldn’t deny that Rishi Sunak knew about those issues to do with potential bullying against Wendy Morton, the chief whip, by Gavin Williamson – and yet he reappointed him.

“What it says is that Rishi Sunak was making decisions simply in his own narrow, short term interests as far as the Conservative Party leadership was concerned, not the national interest.

“And there needs to be an urgent independent investigation into exactly what happened. We can’t have a cover up. We can’t have a whitewash here. What did she do not know when it you know it? What did Gavin Williamson do? And what are the implications of that?”

Former chairman of the Conservative Party, Sir Jake Berry, has said he told Mr Sunak a bullying complaint had been made against Sir Gavin a day before he entered Number 10.

Sir Gavin has been approached for comment.

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The Sunday Times quoted the Cabinet Office minister as saying: “I of course regret getting frustrated about the way colleagues and I felt we were being treated. I am happy to speak with Wendy and I hope to work positively with her in the future as I have in the past.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper accused Mr Sunak of ignoring the complaint and called for Sir Gavin to be sacked.

Downing Street has said it will not be commenting.

A Conservative Party Spokesman said: “The Conservative Party has a robust complaints process in place. This process is rightly a confidential one, so that complainants can come forward in confidence.”

Sir Gavin was sacked as defence secretary in 2019 following the leaking of confidential information from the National Security Council.

After being appointed education secretary by Boris Johnson, he was dismissed from cabinet again in 2021 following controversy around the grading of exams during the pandemic.

It marks the second major controversy to erupt over Mr Sunak’s cabinet appointments, with the PM already under fire for making Suella Braverman his home secretary days after she was sacked for security breaches.