Michael Fallon resigns as defence secretary after being accused in Westminster sex scandal

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon

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Defence Secretary Michael Fallon
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Hannah Mckay/Reuters

    Government rocked as Michael Fallon resigns as defence secretary. Fallon was the first Cabinet minister to be named in a sex scandal that has engulfed Westminster. Fallon was accused of “repeatedly” touching the knee of journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer at a Conservative Party conference over a decade ago. Prime Minister Theresa May said she appreciates the “serious manner” in which Fallon had carried out his Cabinet role.

LONDON – Michael Fallon has resigned as defence secretary following being named in the Westminster sexual harassment scandal.

Conservative MP Fallon announced his resignation from Theresa May’s Cabinet on Wednesday evening, saying his behaviour in the past had “fallen short” of what is expected of him.

Fallon this week admitted to inappropriate behaviour towards journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer more than a decade ago.

The prominent journalist claimed Fallon “repeatedly put his hand on my knee” during a dinner at Conservative party conference and she “calmly and politely explained to him that, if he did it again, I would ‘punch him in the face’.”

A close ally of the defence secretary told The Guardian: “Julia is a good friend of Michael’s. He overstepped the mark when he put his hand on her knee. She made it clear it was unwelcome and he rightly apologised 15 years ago.”

It is not yet confirmed whether Fallon’s resignation was a result of the Hartley-Brewer case or an as-yet undisclosed incident.

The BBC said it was not related to any new claims made against him. However, Fallon was previously accused of referring to a journalist as a “slut” in 2010. Fallons’ allies denied that he had used that word but admitted making remarks about the woman and apologised.

May’s whips reportedly told her that other claims about Fallon may emerge.

One defence insider told the Times: “He felt that he could not expect to hold the military to the highest standards if he had fallen short of those standards.”

“He felt it was the right thing to do to resign, recognising he probably made mistakes over the years. It was probably more than touching knees . . . You are not going to resign over touching someone’s knee.”

EXPLAINER: The dark world of government whips, ‘the black book’ and the Westminster sexual harassment scandal

The veteran MP for Sevenoaks was the first cabinet minister to be identified in the scandal which has engulfed British politics, with allegations levelled at almost 40 Conservative MPs and ministers.

The outgoing minister’s replacement is expected to be announced tomorrow with no Cabinet reshuffle expected, according to multiple reports.

In his resignation letter to Prime Minister May, Fallon said:

“A number of allegations have surfaced about MPs 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.”

May responded by saying she appreciated the “serious manner” in which Fallon had considered his Cabinet position, and the “particular example you [he] wish to set servicemen and women and others”.

Here is Fallon’s resignation letter to May:

A dossier detailing allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour by Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers has been circulating in Westminster this week.

The document, seen in full by Business Insider, contains mostly unverified claims, ranging from private acts between consenting adults to more serious allegations of unwanted sexual advances and sexual harassment. A number of well-known MPs are included in the dossier.

One minister, Mark Garnier, has already admitted to asking a member of staff to buy sex toys for him, while also referring to her as “sugar t—-,” while former work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, has admitted engaging in “sexual chatter” with a 19-year-old applying for a job with him.