Gavin Williamson replaces Michael Fallon as defence secretary

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Media captionNew Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives at MoD

Chief Whip Gavin Williamson has been appointed as the new defence secretary after Sir Michael Fallon’s resignation.

Sir Michael quit on Wednesday saying his past behaviour may have “fallen short” of the standards expected by the UK military.

He became the first politician to quit following recently revealed claims of sexual harassment in Parliament.

Mr Williamson has been replaced as chief whip by his former deputy, Julian Smith.

In that role Mr Smith will be in charge of enforcing party discipline in the Commons, and his deputy will be Tatton MP – and former GMTV presenter – Esther McVey.

BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith said Mrs May’s decision to move her chief whip at such a difficult time had come as a surprise to many people.

But he said she had avoided “unsettling the equilibrium” and making a full reshuffle ahead of the 22 November Budget.

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Media captionSome MPs ‘furious’ at Gavin Williamson appointment

MPs have given a mixed reaction to the promotion of Mr Williamson, who has no cabinet experience.

In an apparent reference to the appointment, Sarah Wollaston tweeted: “There are times when offered a job that it would be better to advise that another would be more experienced and suited to the role.”

Former Conservative minister James Duddridge said: “A quick clean reshuffle. Let’s get back to business. Gavin as Secretary of State was a surprise, but he knows his way around Whitehall and the party.”

Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi said the appointment was an “inspired choice”.

Battles ahead for Williamson

BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale

Gavin Williamson has no military background and has never been a secretary of state. But he is youthful, a rising star and trusted by Number 10.

He arrives at the Ministry of Defence at a difficult time. His first challenge will be to try to stave off more defence cuts. The Cabinet Office is currently carrying out a defence and security review which is due to report by the end of the year.

All three services have been asked to put forward options for cuts. Although there has been a modest rise in the MoD’s budget, it has still got to make more than £20bn of efficiency savings.

There’s also pressure to fund an increase in pay for the armed forces. They’ve been struggling with both recruitment and retention. That also hasn’t been helped by a political reluctance to put troops in harm’s way – something they train for.

There is still unfinished business against so-called Islamic State and Gavin Williamson will be the man who now oversees the RAF airstrikes. Few inside the military or the MoD will know much about him – even fewer on the international stage.

In his resignation letter, Sir Michael said a number of allegations that had surfaced about MPs, including himself, had been false, but added: “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 told the BBC that what had been “acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now”.

He said it “was right” for him to resign, adding: “Parliament now has to look at itself and the prime minister has made very clear that conduct needs to be improved and we need to protect the staff of Westminster against any particular allegations of harassment.”

Who is Gavin Williamson?

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Image caption

Gavin Williams keeps a tarantula – not this one – on his desk

  • 41 years old
  • Born near Scarborough
  • Ran a Staffordshire pottery business before entering Parliament
  • MP South Staffordshire since 2010 and was Parliamentary aide to ex-PM David Cameron
  • Chief whip – in charge of party discipline – since July 2016
  • Keeps a pet tarantula called Cronus on his desk at Westminster
  • Also a patron of the World Owl Trust and has built a house for hedgehogs in his garden

When asked if he thought he should apologise, Sir Michael said: “I think we’ve all got to look back now at the past, there are always things you regret, you would have done differently.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Sir Michael had a record to be proud of as defence secretary.

“I’ve known Michael for many years,” he said.

“He has been a great colleague and a great defence secretary.”

Asked by the BBC if his own behaviour had always been of a standard expected of cabinet ministers, Mr Johnson replied: “You bet.”

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