Sir Michael Fallon has quit as Defence Secretary following allegations of inappropriate behaviour as he acknowledged he had “fallen below the high standards required” of the role.
The Tory veteran became the first head to roll in the sexual harassment scandal sweeping Westminster after it emerged he had repeatedly put his hand on a journalist’s knee during a party conference dinner in 2002.
The resignation leaves Theresa May facing a reshuffle and deprives her of one of her most experienced Cabinet ministers.
Sir Michael’s name had appeared on the unverified list of sexual misconduct allegations which has been circulating in Westminster.
(Prime Minister’s Office/PA)
In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Sir Michael 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.”
In her reply to Sir Michael’s resignation letter, Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I appreciate the characteristically serious manner in which you have considered your position, and the particular example you wish to set to servicemen and women and others.”
(Prime Minister’s Office/PA)
The 2002 Tory party conference incident involved radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer, who has said she had not regarded the incident as “anything but mildly amusing”.
She reacted with shock to Sir Michael’s announcement, writing on Twitter “bloody hell” before adding “I doubt my knee was the reason” for his resignation.
Sir Michael’s decision to quit came just hours after Mrs May invited Westminster’s party leaders to crisis talks on Monday to discuss plans for tackling sexual abuse and harassment.
The Prime Minister said MPs from all parties are “deeply concerned” about allegations that have emerged in recent days as she invited political counterparts to talks on setting up a new “transparent, independent” grievance procedure.
“We have a duty to ensure that everyone coming here to contribute to public life is treated with respect,” she told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions.
Sir Michael was not under investigation about the 2002 incident, but two of his former ministerial colleagues are the subject of probes.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood is looking into claims made against Mrs May’s de facto deputy prime minister Damian Green.
The Cabinet Office investigation was launched after activist Kate Maltby, who is three decades younger than the First Secretary of State, told The Times that Mr Green “fleetingly” touched her knee during a meeting in a Waterloo pub in 2015, and a year later sent her a “suggestive” text message after she was pictured wearing a corset in the newspaper.
The department is separately probing whether international trade minister Mark Garnier breached the ministerial code after he reportedly admitted asking his secretary to buy sex toys and calling her “sugar tits”.