Theresa May suffers major backlash over her new defence secretary

Britain's new defence secretary Gavin Williamson (R) arrives at the Ministry of Defence

caption
Britain’s new defence secretary Gavin Williamson (R) arrives at the Ministry of Defence
source
Darren Staples/Reuters

    Theresa May faces backlash after appointing Gavin Williamson as the new defence secretary. Backbench Conservative MPs are reportedly “livid” at his promotion from chief whip. Former Chief of the General Staff Lord Dannatt says it is not the best move “from a defence point of view.”

LONDON – Theresa May is facing a major backlash after appointing her chief whip Gavin Williamson as the new defence secretary, with some Conservative MPs “livid” at the promotion.

Williamson was appointed on Thursday morning following Sir Michael Fallon’s shock resignation as defence secretary on Wednesday evening after he was implicated in the Westminster sexual harassment scandal.

One senior Conservative backbench MP described the surprise promotion of Williamson to The Guardian as “Unbelievable. Ludicrous. Astonishing.”

Former Chief of the General Staff Lord Richard Dannatt said the appointment was “quite surprising” and not the best option “from a defence point of view.”

This is Williamson’s first ministerial position, but is thought to be trusted by May after he ran her leadership campaign and was a trusted ally as chief whip since she became prime minister.

His departure has caused a shock at a time when party discipline is very important, due to the government’s wafer-thin majority in parliament.

Williamson was instrumental in organising the “confidence and supply” deal with the Democratic Unionist Party following the disastrous general election and has ensured May has not lost a government vote in the House of Commons.

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston tweeted:

Williamson’s appointment did gather some support from May’s former chief of staff Nick Timothy, however this was not well received by Conservative MP Anna Soubry:

Meanwhile, Lord Dannatt told the Independent: “It is obviously heavily political in so far as she has chosen a leading lieutenant to support her in Cabinet.

“I said this morning that promoting one of the existing defence ministers would be the best outcome from a defence point of view, but I fully respect the PM’s desire to give a senior job in Cabinet to a trusted lieutenant.”

One minister said the move was “the most unpopular political decision I have ever known,” and a Tory MP told Buzzfeed News that it’s May’s “biggest and probably last mistake.”

Another Conservative MP told the New Statesman: “He [Williamson] has become the most loathed person in the parliamentary party, he’s overplayed his hand, he’s out of his depth, he’s never held a ministerial post, he’s never spoken at the despatch box and he’s deserted the whips office at a perilous moment.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson insisted this morning that “Gavin Williamson was an excellent and hard-working chief whip and the PM is certain he will make an excellent defence secretary.”

Asked whether the prime minister was confident that Williamson would not have more questions to answer over the role of the whips office in the scandal, the spokesperson told BI: “Yes. The prime minister is confident in the operation of the whips office during her premiership.”

In an interview with his local paper, The Express and Star, Williamson said he was expecting a “baptism of fire” and insisted that the appointment came as a surprise to him.

He said: “I was absolutely flabbergasted when the Prime Minister brought me in and asked me to be the Secretary of State for Defence.

“Walking through the doors of the MOD I immediately felt a real sense of responsibility on my shoulders. I am under no illusions that this is a massive challenge and a huge responsibility.”Former Conservative minister Nick Boles tweeted: