Saturday

24th Feb 2024

'Sex pest' scandal claims UK senior minister

  • "In the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces," Michael Fallon admitted (Photo: Defence Images)

UK defence minister Michael Fallon resigned on Wednesday night (1 November) over harassment allegations, amid a growing scandal that could weaken the government in the middle of crucial Brexit talks

In a letter to prime minister Theresa May, Fallon admitted that he had in the past "fallen below the high standards that we require of the armed forces."

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The minister quit after it was revealed last week that he repeatedly touched the knee of a journalist in 2002.

The journalist, Julia Hartley-Brewer, now a presenter on Talk Radio, dismissed the incident saying she did not regard it as "anything but mildly amusing" and joked that "her knees remain intact."

Reacting to Fallon's resignation on Wednesday, she said "doubt[ed]" that "[her] knee was the reason".

Asked on the BBC whether there were more, serious allegations coming up about his behaviour, Fallon said that "the culture has changed over the years" and that "what might have been acceptable 15, 10 years ago is clearly not acceptable now".

He added that "parliament now has to look at itself" because there are "some serious issues here."

In their headlines on Thursday, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, traditionally close to Fallon and May's Conservative Party, said that the minister was "the first scalp" in a growing scandal.

In the wake of revelations over Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's harassment of women, allegations have started about misconduct by UK politicians.

Media have reported about a so-called 'sex pests' WhatsApp group discussion used by women staff in parliament to share information about MPs who harass.

Conservative Party aides made a list of 36 MPs, including six cabinet members, with a description of their alleged inappropriate behaviour.

Deputy prime minister Damian Green has been accused of harassment by a party activist 30 years his junior. May has ordered an investigation into the case.

She ordered another investigation over claims that a minister in the Department for International Trade, Mark Garnier, used inappropriate language with his secretary in public and asked her to buy sex toys for him.

"Any unwanted sexual behaviour is completely unacceptable, and that is true in any walk of life, including politics," May's spokeswoman said last week.

Revelations also hit the opposition Labour Party, where an activist, Bex Bailey, said she was told not to report a rape at a party event.

Johnson at defence?

The scandal comes as Theresa May's government has no majority in the House of Commons, governing only with the support of the arch-conservative Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party.

On Wednesday evening, the government lost an opposition-called vote in parliament, demanding the release of some 58 Brexit impact studies, analysing possible effects on dozens of industries and sectors, which the government has so far refused to make public.

It was not immediately clear if, or when, the government would be forced to publish the studies.

May herself is already weakened by her failed attempt to win a strong majority in a snap election in June, and by infighting about strategy in Brexit negotiations with the EU.



The next round of talks will take place next week in Brussels, in an effort to reach enough progress to open the second phase of talks over the future EU-UK trade relationship.

According to the Times, May's main rival in the cabinet, foreign secretary Boris Johnson, could be moved to defence in replacement for Fallon.



But according to the Daily Telegraph, the portfolio could be entrusted to Penny Mordaunt, the current minister of state for disabled people, work and health, who previously was minister of state for the armed forces.

Brexit talks to resume next week

UK and EU officials will get together next Thursday to try to achieve "sufficient progress" by December on key issues for unlocking the next phase of negotiations.

EU denies May 'begged for help'

The European Commission says leaked comments to German media are false and an effort to undermine the EU negotiating position on Brexit.

Germany speeds up Georgia and Morocco asylum returns

Germany is expanding agreements to return rejected asylum seekers to their countries of origin as part of a wider shift in Europe to curtail migration. Berlin has reached deals with Georgia and Morocco since December.

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