Is Westminster sex scandal turning into a ‘witch hunt’? ‘Dirty dossier’ divides parliament
Cabinet ministers and MPs across British politics are facing allegations of sexual harassment against female colleagues in parliament. Some MPs, however, have cautioned against ‘overreaction’ or even a ‘witch hunt.’
Overnight, further allegations emerged of women reporting sexual advances which were never acted upon, backbenchers harassing women to date them, and predatory MPs who behave so badly that young MPs are warned to stay away from them. The scandal threatens to dwarf the expenses bombshell of 2009.
In one reported case, a woman accused an MP of sex assault four times, but says her pleas for help were ignored. Two female staff members of one minister are said to have quit their jobs over inappropriate behavior, while Betty Williams, a former Labour MP for Conwy, said her breasts were grabbed.
“I was given a heads up as a new MP of older, male MPs I shouldn’t find myself inebriated and alone with,” one Tory MP said.
Separately, Minister Mark Garnier admitted asking his secretary to buy sex toys and calling her “sugar t*ts.”
The revelations are not confined to the UK’s two biggest parties. Elsewhere, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is investigating two separate complaints of sexual misconduct at Holyrood.
Prime Minister Theresa May has called for an investigation into a “dirty dossier” of dozens of Tory men who are alleged to have acted inappropriately. Seven cabinet ministers and 15 members of government are reported to feature in the dossier, as well as a number of former politicians.
A senior backbench MP said moves to add protections for workers in the Commons were blocked by political parties in recent years. Andrea Leadsom, leader of the House of Commons, said ministers could lose their cabinet roles and MPs could have the whip withdrawn if accusations are proven.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was also implicated on Monday after it emerged that he “repeatedly” put his hand on a journalist’s knee.
However, LBC presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer disputed claims that she was the victim. The former Express writer blasted the “Westminster witch hunt” and called on women to support genuine victims by not making trivial claims.
“I have worked in and around Westminster for 20 years,” she wrote.
Unwanted sexual behaviour is unacceptable in any walk of life. We must stamp it out. My letter to @HouseofCommons Speaker pic.twitter.com/oPLltr5gKS— Theresa May (@theresa_may) October 29, 2017
“As far as I am aware, incident of genuine harassment involve only a small number of MPs from all parties. I believe it is absurd and wrong to treat workplace banter and flirting – and even misjudged sexual overtures – between consenting adults as being morally equivalent to serious sexual assault and harassment.”
A number of politicians shared Hartley-Brewer’s concerns regarding a ‘witch hunt.’
“I fear we are about to witness a full frontal witch hunt based on rumour and media hypocrisy,” one MP said.
However, unverified accounts of assault are circling the Commons. In the chamber on Monday, a female MP revealed a harrowing tale of a woman’s calls for help being ignored.
“A worker employed as staff of a Member in this House told me today that she reported being sexually assaulted to the proper authorities earlier this year, who did nothing,” Liz Saville Roberts MP told colleagues.
“She is deeply disappointed and distrustful and she tells me that distrust is endemic. How can I assure her that her complaint will now be treated differently?” Her case was not taken further by police, added the MP.
Other politicians have reported hearing about incidents in the Sports and Social bar in the Palace of Westminster, where young staff and MPs drink together.
“When I complained recently to an officer of parliament who had some responsibility in this area, that I knew a number of researchers, male and female, who had been made to feel deeply uncomfortable in the Sports and Social club here, by Members of Parliament, I was told that that happens in pubs all over the country,” said Labour Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah.
Ayesha Hazarika, a former Labour adviser, said young women are afraid to speak out. She claimed she had been “lunged at on a regular basis.”