Michael Fallon quits cabinet post over harassment scandal
Tory says his behaviour may have ‘fallen short’ as Westminster scandal grows
The UK’s defence secretary Michael Fallon resigned on Wednesday evening, citing past behaviour that may have “fallen short”.
He is the first minister to step down from Theresa May’s government in the growing scandal about sexual harassment at Westminster, which has seen a series of lurid allegations emerge in recent days.
Mr Fallon apologised earlier this week over an incident 15 years ago in which he made unwanted advances to the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, placing his hand on her knee. But it is unclear whether other incidents may have prompted his resignation.
In his resignation letter to Ms May, Mr Fallon 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 in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces that I have the honour to represent.
“I have reflected on my position and I am now resigning as defence secretary.”
In her reply, the prime minister 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.” She praised his “diligent service”.
‘False and hurtful’
Earlier on Wednesday, two ministers named on a list of Conservative MPs accused of sexual harassment or inappropriate conduct condemned the accusations as false and hurtful, as Ms May called for an independent process to investigate such claims.
The list of 40 MPs compiled by a group of Conservative researchers at Westminster says justice minister Dominic Raab was served with an injunction over “inappropriate behaviour with a woman”.
Mr Raab, who has been tipped as a future Conservative leader, said he had never been subject to an injunction and that the accusation against him was baseless. “For anonymous individuals to compile and publish, or allow to be published, a list of vague, unsubstantiated and – in my case – false allegations is wrong,” he said.
“It is also a form of harassment and intimidation, although of course I am not suggesting it is the same or equivalent. Still, accountability should mean properly investigating any reports of abuse, without irresponsibly smearing those who have done nothing wrong.”
Rory Stewart, another rising star in the party, said a claim that he had asked Sophie Bolsover, a parliamentary researcher, “to do odd things” was untrue and “deeply hurtful”. Ms Bolsover also issued a statement dismissing the story, adding that Mr Stewart was “never anything other than completely professional and an excellent employer”.
The prime minister on Wednesday wrote to other party leaders inviting them to meet her next week to agree on a “common, transparent independent grievance procedure” for all those working in parliament.
“We have a duty to ensure that everyone coming here to contribute to public life is treated with respect,” she told MPs.
Ms May was speaking after first minister Damian Green, her effective deputy, denied a claim that he had behaved inappropriately towards Kate Maltby, a journalist and Conservative activist 30 years younger than him. The cabinet secretary is investigating whether Mr Green breached the ministerial code of conduct but Conservative MP Anna Soubry said he should step aside pending the investigation.
“I would say there is an investigation, by some mechanism you stand out, you remove yourself from this position, until the conclusion of that investigation,” she told Sky News.
Labour has launched an independent inquiry into claims that Bex Bailey, a young party activist, was discouraged from reporting an alleged rape at a party event in 2011.
On Wednesday night, a former parliamentary intern said he was sexually assaulted by a former MP in 2012 but was discouraged by the MP’s party from reporting the incident. James Greenhalgh said the man approached him outside a bar in the House of Commons, put his arm around him and went on to assault him.
“Suddenly his arm slipped down towards my buttocks and went a bit further between my legs. I just didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to do at all,” he told the BBC. - Additional reporting Guardian