Defence Secretary Michael Fallon resigns amid harassment scandal

Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. Picture: Getty Images
Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon. Picture: Getty Images
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Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has resigned as the growing scandal over Westminster’s sexual harassment culture reached the top of government.

Mr Fallon stood down last night after admitting that his past conduct may have “fallen short”.

The announcement came less than 24 hours after apologising for touching the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer at a dinner 15 years ago.

READ MORE: Scottish Tory candidate suspended over sexual assault allegations

No other specific allegations involving the Defence Secretary have been made public. Mr Fallon’s resignation will increase pressure on Theresa May’s deputy, Damian Green, who was earlier forced to deny claims that he made an unwanted sexual advance towards a female journalist 30 years his junior.

In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Fallon wrote: “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.

“I have reflected on my position and I am therefore resigning as Defence Secretary.”

Mrs May wrote in reply: “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.”

Mr Green is facing calls to temporarily stand aside while his conduct is investigated by the Cabinet Office.

He denies acting improperly towards Kate Maltby, a Times journalist and Conservative activist, by sending her “suggestive” texts and “fleetingly” touching her knee during a meeting in 2015.

He said the claims were “untrue [and] deeply hurtful”.

Downing Street refused to comment when asked if the Prime Minister had confidence in the First Secretary of State.

One Conservative MP said Mr Green should stand down from government while the investigation is carried out. Anna Soubry said that under “normal circumstances” he would step aside until the probe is completed.

A Downing Street spokesman said Mrs May had asked Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to “establish the facts and report back as soon as possible”. Labour has questioned whether it is appropriate for Mr Green’s own department to lead the investigation.

The leaders of the four largest parties at Westminster will meet next week to discuss plans for a new parliamentary body that will deal with complaints of sexual harassment and support victims.

During Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May said MPs of all parties were “deeply concerned” by allegations in recent days and got the backing of Jeremy Corbyn and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford for her proposals.

“I’ve written to all party leaders inviting them to a meeting early next week so we can discuss a common, transparent, independent grievance procedure for all those working in Parliament,” Mrs May said.

“We have a duty to ensure that everyone coming here to contribute to public life is treated with respect.”

A spokesman for the Labour leader did not comment when asked whether the man accused of raping activist Bex Bailey at an event in 2011 was still working for the party. The party has launched its own inquiry into the alleged attack, which took place when Ms Bailey was aged 19.

READ MORE: Parties told to take action on sex harassment at Westminster

Last night a former parliamentary intern revealed he was groped by a former MP in parliament.

James Greenhalgh told the BBC that the unnamed MP had put his hand down the back of his trousers and “had a good feel round”.

Mr Greenhalgh, who didn’t know the MP before the incident in 2012, said: “It wasn’t very pleasant at all. I just didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what to do at all.”

At PMQs, Mrs May was challenged over the role of party whips in collecting compromising information on MPs that could include allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

Referring to concerns about the so-called ‘black books’ at the time the historic child abuse inquiry was being set up, the Labour MP Lisa Nandy told the Commons: “Three years ago I brought evidence to her in this House that whips had used information about sexual abuse to demand loyalty from MPs.

“I warned her at the time that unless real action was taken, we risked repeating those injustices again today.

“On three occasions I asked her to act, and on three occasions she did not.”

Mrs May said whips’ offices should “make clear to people that where there are any sexual abuse allegations that could be of a criminal nature that people should go to the police”.

Two government ministers have denied claims of sexual impropriety after a spreadsheet listing a series of alleged affairs and incidents of harassment was published online.

Justice minister Dominic Raab said he had taken legal advice after his name appeared on the document next to a claim he was subject to an injunction for “inappropriate behaviour with a woman”.

Aid minister Rory Stewart said claims about his behaviour towards a female member of staff were “completely untrue”.

Sophie Bolsover, the former researcher named in the document, said the claim had “caused deep distress and anxiety”.