Theresa May faced a fierce backlash from some Conservative MPs after she appointed her little-known chief whip Gavin Williamson as Defence Secretary, even though he has never spoken as a Minister in the Commons.
Mr. Williamson replaced Michael Fallon, who became the first political casualty of sexual harassment allegations sweeping Westminster, when he resigned on Wednesday night.
The 41-year-old is the youngest Defence Secretary since the post was created shortly before the second world war, and has no departmental or military experience.
Sarah Wollaston, a Conservative MP, said: “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.”
Anger at Mr. Williamson stems partly from the belief that, as chief whip, he helped orchestrate Sir Michael’s departure, and then took advantage of it.
Sir Michael admitted publicly that he had repeatedly touched a journalist’s knee 15 years ago, and could not privately guarantee to the prime minister that further allegations of sexual misconduct would not emerge.
One minister said: “Clearly Gavin was saying, ‘he’s got to go . . . and oh, what about me [as a replacement]?’ It’s very House of Cards.”
Some MPs had also hoped that Mrs. May would appoint Britain’s first female defence secretary, or a fresh face, perhaps with military experience, thereby helping the Conservatives to refresh their image after June’s disappointing election. Mr. Williamson, in contrast, is part of Mrs. May’s inner circle and has little public profile.
“It’s a disastrous appointment,” said one prominent backbencher. “Many [MPs] are saying it’s her biggest and probably last mistake.”
Others came to Mr. Williamson’s defence. “He has been a very effective chief whip and he has demonstrated that loyalty to both of the two prime ministers he has served so well,” said former minister Nick Boles.
Downing Street insisted that Mr. Williamson “wasn’t involved” in the reshuffle. It is seeking to avoid a broad cabinet shake-up that could destabilise the government. The sexual conduct of another cabinet minister, Damian Green, is still being investigated by the Cabinet Office.