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May replaces defence secretary amidst growing harassment scandal

British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has appointed Gavin Williamson as her new defence minister on Thursday after his predecessor resigned in a sexual harassment scandal.

This had prompted calls for an end to the “locker room” culture in parliament.

Just hours after Michael Fallon quit saying his behaviour in the past fell “below the high standards we require of the armed forces”, May appointed Williamson, a rising star in her ruling Conservative Party.

Weakened after losing her party’s majority in a June election, May had to move swiftly to plug the hole in her cabinet, at odds on everything from Britain’s departure from the EU to the government’s austerity agenda.

“The Queen has been pleased to approve the appointment of Rt Hon Gavin Williamson as Secretary of State for Defence,” May’s spokesman said.

Williamson, elected in 2010, has moved swiftly up the ranks of the Conservatives and was appointed the party’s chief whip – a key role akin to being a team manager to maintain voting discipline – by May when she became prime minister in 2016.

The 41-year-old has had no previous experience of Britain’s armed forces, according to his online profile.

Fallon apologised earlier this week for touching a radio presenter’s knee in 2002 – something the woman in question described on social media as “mildly amusing”.

In his letter of resignation to May, he said there had been many allegations about lawmakers in recent days, including “some about my previous conduct’’.

“Many of these have been false but I accept that in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces that I have the honour to represent,” he said.

“I have reflected on my position and I am, therefore, resigning as defence secretary.”

May replied in a letter saying she appreciated “the characteristically serious manner” in which Fallon had considered his position and “the particular example you wish to set to servicemen and women and others”.

Allegations of sexual abuse have ranged from a charge of rape by an activist in the opposition Labour Party by a senior party member, to unconfirmed details of serial “sex pests” on a list reportedly drafted by aides and researchers in parliament.

 

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