Tory former minister Anna Soubry has said First Secretary of State Damian Green should stand down while allegations he made inappropriate advances to a female activist are investigated.
Prime Minister Theresa May ordered an inquiry into the claims against her effective deputy after he became the most senior politician yet to be caught up in a tide of allegations and rumours relating to sexual harassment and abuse in Westminster.
The Cabinet Office investigation was launched after Kate Maltby, who is three decades younger than the First Secretary of State, told The Times that Mr Green had “fleetingly” touched her knee during a meeting in a Waterloo pub in 2015, and a year later sent her a “suggestive” text message after she was pictured wearing a corset in the newspaper.
Anna Soubry said in “normal circumstances” Damian Green would be suspended (Yui Mok/PA)
Mr Green said any allegation that he made sexual advances to Ms Maltby was “untrue (and) deeply hurtful”.
Ms Soubry said in “normal circumstances” Mr Green would be suspended.
She told Sky News: “The allegation against Damian Green has been reported to the Cabinet Office and there will be an investigation… in normal circumstances, that person would be suspended.
“Is he placed in a difficult position? Yes he is. Personally, I would say there is an investigation, by some mechanism you stand down, you remove yourself from this position until the conclusion of that investigation.”
However, Margot James, the Minister for Small Business, told BBC Radio 5 that Mr Green should not step aside.
She said: “No, certainly I don’t think so, but that is obviously up to the Prime Minister, but I certainly don’t think so, no. I’ve read the article in the Times today, and I certainly don’t think that it warrants anyone’s resignation, temporary or otherwise, in my opinion.”
Ms Maltby, 31, said that 61-year-old Mr Green was an old friend of her parents who she had approached for advice after becoming involved in Tory activism. When they met for drinks, she said he suggested could help her start a political career, before turning the conversation to the subject of affairs at Westminster.
Ms Maltby said that he mentioned that his own wife was “very understanding” and she then “felt a fleeting hand against my knee – so brief it was almost deniable”.
Angered by the incident, she had no further contact with Mr Green until his text a year later, saying he had “admired you in a corset” and inviting her for a drink.
Writing in The Times, she said she renewed contact with Mr Green after his appointment to the Cabinet, but doubted he knew how “awkward, embarrassed and professionally compromised” she felt about the alleged incident.
Mr Green said: “It is absolutely and completely untrue that I’ve ever made any sexual advances on Ms Maltby. I have known Ms Maltby since she contacted me as board member of Bright Blue, the Conservative think tank, in 2014, and we have had a drink as friends twice-yearly.
“The text I sent after she appeared in a newspaper article was sent in that spirit – as two friends agreeing to meet for a regular catch-up – and nothing more. This untrue allegation has come as a complete shock and is deeply hurtful, especially from someone I considered a personal friend.”
A Downing Street spokesman said that Mrs May had asked Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood to “establish the facts and report back as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile, Labour has launched an independent inquiry into claims that prominent activist Bex Bailey was discouraged by a party official from reporting an alleged rape at a Labour event in 2011 on the grounds it might damage her political career.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowed he would allow “no tolerance” of sexism, harassment or abuse after Ms Bailey spoke out about the party’s failure to support her following her alleged rape.
Aged 19 at the time of the alleged attack, she said she felt too scared and ashamed to report it to the police, but eventually summoned up the courage to tell a senior party official.
Labour said it takes the allegations “extremely seriously” and has launched an independent inquiry by general secretary Iain McNicol into the claims that she was not given adequate support by the party.