Sat, 24 February 2024

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By Lord Dannatt
Press releases

Theresa May branded 'pathetically weak' after making Gavin Williamson the new Defence Secretary

4 min read

Conservative MPs have hit out at the appointment of Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary - with one ex-frontbencher saying it showed how “pathetically weak” Theresa May is. 

In a shock move, the former chief whip has taken over from Michael Fallon, who dramatically quit the Government last night.

Mr Fallon was the first scalp of the Westminster sexual harassment scandal after he apologised for touching a journalist’s knee in 2002.

But the decision to replace him with Mr Williamson has sparked anger among many of his Tory colleagues - with some claiming that he effectively ousted his predecessor before handing himself the job.

One former minister told PoliticsHome: "Normally prime ministers use reshuffles to indicate their strength, but in this case it looks like the PM has used a reshuffle to indicate how pathetically weak she is.

"It looks like Williamson has played her. When you have a wide range of experienced alternate options for Defence Secretary, why would you do that?

"The answer can only be that just as with Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill before, the Prime Minister over-relies on individuals who seem to make up for her own lack of ability."

Another former minister told this site: "You've got a situation where people are openly saying that Gavin Williamson appointed himself Defence Secretary - that is not good for the Prime Minister.

"The obvious candidate to be the new Chief Whip was Anne Milton, but instead it's gone to Gavin's mate Julian Smith. There's a real trust issue with him and people think he's pretty sinister.

"Gavin has gone off to a great job to prepare his 2019 leadership bid, while Julian minds the shop for him in the whips office."

A senior Tory frontbencher added: "Making Gavin Williamson Defence Secretary is an interesting appointment if he instigated Fallon's departure."

One minister told Daily Mail political editor Jason Groves it was the “most unpopular political decision I have ever known”. 

A senior Tory MP told the Evening Standard: "He has walked away from sh*t-fest that is No10 and given himself best job in Government.” 

One minister told the Huffington Post the appointment proved Mrs May had “gone mad”. 

“It's real 'end of days' stuff. He's [Williamson] a real slimeball, with his own leadership team in place,” they added. 

Senior Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston tweeted a thinly-veiled swipe at the appointment.

Other journalists tweeted the shocked and damning reactions to the appointment from Tory MPs.

A Labour MP told PoliticsHome: “They won’t exactly be sh*tting themselves in Pyongyang at that news.”

But Nick Timothy, Mrs May’s former chief of staff, said it the idea Mr Williamson appointed himself was “absurd”. 

A source from the whips office told PoliticsHome it was "a great appointment". They added: "It demonstrates swift action by the PM to keep the ship steady. The whole thing has been quickly and efficiently handled." 

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “Gavin Williamson was an excellent and hard-working chief whip and the Prime Minister thinks he will make an excellent Defence Secretary."

The spokesman also denied suggestions that Mr Williamson had played a part in appointing himself to the role. 

He said: "The Prime Minister chooses who is Defence Secretary."

Mr Williamson said: "I am both honoured and excited to have been appointed Defence Secretary. I am determined to ensure that the Armed Forces receive the recognition they deserve for the great work they do."

Read our backgrounder on Mr Williamson and how he rose to become Defence Secretary here: Gavin Williamson - the baby-faced assassin who became Defence Secretary

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