British defense secretary steps down after sexual harassment allegations

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, Michael Fallon resigns after being accused of sexual harassment. As allegations against members of British parliament increase, Prime Minister Theresa May calls for a change in political culture.

Stefan Wermuth/Reuters
British defense secretary Michael Fallon is seen walking out of a cabinet meeting In London in June. After recent sexual harassment allegations, Mr. Fallon has resigned from his post.

British defense minister Michael Fallon quit on Wednesday, the first resignation in a growing sexual harassment scandal that prompted calls for a wholesale change in the "locker room" culture in parliament.

Members of Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative Party said the first high-profile resignation in the scandal showed it was time for reform at the 800-year-old parliament, where power is concentrated in lawmakers' hands and wielded, often unchecked, over junior aides.

The loss of Mr. Fallon, described by Conservative sources as a political "Rottweiler," leaves Ms. May with a hole in her cabinet, already at odds on everything from Britain's departure from the European Union to the government's austerity agenda.

Weakened after losing her party's majority in a June election, May will want to move swiftly to appoint a replacement with as little disruption as possible.

In his letter of resignation to May, Fallon, who had apologized earlier this week for repeatedly touching a radio presenter's knee in 2002, said there had been many allegations about lawmakers, 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," he said, offering no detail on the nature of any other allegations.

"I have reflected on my position and I am therefore resigning as defense secretary."

May replied in a letter saying she appreciated "the characteristically serious manner" in which Fallon had considered his position and "the particular example you wish to set to servicemen and women and others."

The prime minister was expected to announce a new defense minister on Thursday and is unlikely to launch a major reshuffle of her cabinet at a time when she is trying to push forward Brexit talks.

Dependent on the support of a small Northern Irish party for a majority in parliament, May will be keen to try to limit the fallout of the scandal, which has prompted allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct against lawmakers across parliament.

Sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein have prompted hundreds of thousands of women and men to share stories about improper behavior, and Britain's parliament – a bastion of tradition – has been no exception.

Ruth Davidson, leader of the Conservatives in Scotland, said it was time to break with a culture in politics when powerful people "use positions of power to demand things from others."

"The dam has broken on this now, and these male-dominated professions where the boys-own locker room culture has prevailed and it's all been a bit of a laugh, has got to stop," she told the BBC.

Allegations of sexual abuse have ranged from a charge of rape by an activist in the opposition Labor Party by a senior party member, to unconfirmed details of serial "sex pests" on a list reportedly drafted by aides and researchers in parliament.

On Monday, May sat beside the leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom as she set out the government's plans to tackle sexual harassment, including measures to enforce a code of conduct and to set up an independent grievance procedure.

May has ordered investigations into a report that one of her ministers asked a female secretary to buy sex toys and an allegation her deputy, Damian Green, made an inappropriate sexual advance on a young woman – something he denies.

The prime minister, who has long championed the careers of female lawmakers, said on Wednesday that action would be taken when there were allegations and evidence of sexual misconduct.

"I am very clear that we will take action against those where there are allegations that we see, and the evidence is there, that there has been misconduct," May told lawmakers.

This story was reported by Reuters.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.