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UK defence secy quits as more allegations of sexual misconduct hit Westminster

A raft of allegations has been made by interns working for MPs and other employees in the palaces of Westminster, being called “Pestminster” by many tabloids.

world Updated: Nov 02, 2017 16:35 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Westminster,UK,UK defence secretary
Britain’s defence secretary Michael Fallon speaks on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show in London in April. (Reuters File Photo)

Defence secretary Michael Fallon resigned on Wednesday night as allegations of sexual misconduct continued to swirl in the United Kingdom’s corridors of power, threatening political careers and forcing Prime Minister Theresa May to initiate action against those mixing power-politics with sex.

A raft of allegations has been made by interns working for MPs and other employees in the palaces of Westminster. Tabloids have gone to town calling it ‘Pestminster’, while a spreadsheet with a ‘sleaze list’ containing the names of 40 MPs and ministers is said to be doing the rounds.

Conservative Party chief whip Gavin Williamson was named as the new defence secretary on Thursday.

Fallon, who visited India in April, apologised earlier this week for an incident 15 years ago in which he made unwanted advances on journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer. He accepted on Wednesday that his conduct may have fallen short of the standards expected of the British military and resigned. He told BBC that “what might have been acceptable 15-10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now”.

Fallon wrote in his resignation letter to May: “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.”

Responding to Fallon’s letter, 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.”

Among the leading lights facing the charges is Damian Green, a close ally of May considered the deputy prime minister in his role as first secretary of state. He has strenuously denied making unwanted sexual advances towards Kate Maltby, an academic involved in Conservative politics.

The latest account to emerge was that of James Greenhalgh, a former parliamentary intern who told the BBC that he was approached outside one of the bars in the House of Commons by a former MP in 2011.

Greenhalgh, without naming the MP, said: “He literally put his arm around me, very close, stinking of alcohol, I remember, and pointing out different things on the canvas (painting). I was interested to hear what he had to say, but I was thinking, ‘This is very, this is very touchy-feely here — what’s he doing?’ And suddenly his arm slipped down towards my buttocks, and he had a good feel-around there, and then went a bit further in between my legs. It wasn’t very pleasant at all. I just didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to do at all.”

Similar allegations have also surfaced in the Labour party. May has invited other party leaders to a meeting next week to discuss how to improve the system for dealing with sexual allegations.

Dawn Butler, shadow women and equalities secretary, blamed the overwhelmingly male makeup of parliament for the prevalence of sexual misconduct. “What is it about this place, with 650 MPs, 500-odd of them being male, and a lot of them having gone to private school and with a lot of people thinking that they are God’s gift in more ways than one? I don’t know,” she said.

First Published: Nov 02, 2017 09:29 IST