Gavin Williamson appointed Defence Secretary after Michael Fallon's resignation

Gavin Williamson (Reuters/Peter Nicholls)
Gavin Williamson (Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

Gavin Williamson has been appointed Defence Secretary by Theresa May.

The Prime Minister handed the 41-year-old MP for South Staffordshire his first ministerial post after the shock resignation of Michael Fallon on Wednesday.

Sir Michael quit after admitting his behaviour had “fallen below the high standards required” in the role and acknowledging that what might have been acceptable in the past was no longer appropriate.

Mr Williamson, who was the Conservative party’s Chief Whip, was a surprise pick having no defence experience with a number of Tory MPs expressing dismay at the appointment.

He was appointed over Work and Pensions Minister Penny Mourdant, a Royal Navy reservist who was tipped to be the first woman to take the post.

Controversial appointment

As a close ally of Mrs May, his appointment adds a loyal lieutenant to the Prime Minister’s increasingly fractious cabinet, as well as avoiding a wider reshuffle.

The new minister has achieved the highly unusual distinction of being promoted directly into the Cabinet without having held a more junior ministerial job, leading to accusations that the PM has promoted him above his abilities.

Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Stephen Lovegrove (right), greets Gavin Williamson outside the Ministry of Defence (PA Images)
Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Stephen Lovegrove (right), greets Gavin Williamson outside the Ministry of Defence (PA Images)

Some sources have claimed a number of Tory MPs are less than pleased with the appointment.

One Tory MP apparently said: ‘He’s out of the sh*tstorm. Knifed Fallon and pinched his job. It’s way above his ability.’

Another backbencher’s response is said to have been: ‘Unbelievable. Ludicrous. Astonishing.’

A minister is reported to have described it as ‘the most unpopular political decision I have ever known’.


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Apparently referring to Mr Williamson’s promotion, Tory MP Sarah Wollaston tweeted: “There are times when offered a job that it would be better to advise that another would be more experienced & suited to the role.”

Others, however, have sprung to his defence, including Nick Timothy, a former adviser to Theresa May.

Cronus the tarantula

Mr Williamson was handed his big break as parliamentary private secretary to David Cameron from 2013-16.

He was later selected by Mrs May as her parliamentary campaign manager for the contest for the Conservative leadership triggered by Mr Cameron’s resignation.

Mr Williamson is known in parliament for keeping a pet tarantula called Cronus on his desk, who is said to have added an extra layer of menace when he dealt with errant MPs as the PM’s chief enforcer.

Mr Williamson told The Telegraph in 2016: ‘Everyone is obsessed with Palmerston and Larry the cat, but in the Whip’s office we have a proper pet.

‘I’ve had Cronus since he was a spider-ling, so I have a very paternal sort of approach. It’s very much the same sort of love and care that I give to my spider as I give to all MPs.’

Mr Williamson was replaced as chief whip by his former deputy Julian Smith, while Tatton MP Esther McVey – a former TV presenter who served as a minister in David Cameron’s government – was made deputy chief whip.