UK names new defence minister after sex scandal claims senior scalp

Parliamentary newcomer Gavin Williamson moves from role as government’s chief enforcer to one of the government's most testing jobs

Britain's newly appointed Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson in Downing Street, London, Britain, November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May moved swiftly on Thursday to appoint a new defence secretary after the first resignation from government ranks over a growing sex scandal.

Gavin Williamson, the ruling party’s disciplinary enforcer, was named on Thursday as the successor to Michael Fallon who admitted that his past behaviour had “fallen short” of standards required of Britain’s armed forces.

The surprise resignation came after it appeared he had ridden out a storm on confirming that he had been sharply rebuked for putting his hand on the knee of a female journalist during a dinner in 2002.

His resignation and its timing sparked speculation that Mr Fallon feared further damaging allegations following the wide circulation of a spreadsheet with allegations against 40 politicians. Some of those MPs named have come out to deny any wrongdoing.

Mr Williamson is known to be fiercely loyal to Mrs May and is seen as a safe pair of hands as the government faces continuing turmoil over allegations of harassment by MPs while grappling with the huge task of negotiating an exit from the European Union.

Mr Williamson was first elected as MP in 2010 and has never before held a ministerial office. His swift elevation – replacing a minister with a 30-year parliamentary career – was viewed Thursday as a sign of a new guard moving into prominent positions of power.

His elevation was "an inspired choice" and was clearly "very talented", said Nadhim Zahawi, a fellow Conservative lawmaker told Sky News

The first sign of his appointment came as he left 10 Downing Street with a senior military officer and got into a waiting car. He appeared on the steps of his new ministry on Thursday with senior officials for a brief photocall before going into the building without comment to waiting reporters.

Mrs May on Wednesday called other British political leaders to a summit to address the increasing allegations of sexual misconduct.

Another of her closest allies, Damian Green, is accused of making flirtatious passes at a Tory activist and journalist. He has denied the claims.

Britain's main opposition party Labour has also been implicated in the scandal with one activist claiming that she was persuaded by senior figures not to report a rape by a fellow party member to the police.

The scandal in Westminster was triggered by the recent accusations of sexual assault made against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.