Theresa May is facing a fresh row over Westminster sex harassment claims after it emerged that her deputy Damian Green will stand in for her at Prime Minister’s Question Time.
Downing Street revealed that with the PM on a trip to the Middle East, Green would step up for the weekly set-piece session in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
But with Green under investigation for alleged inappropriate conduct towards a female Tory activist, the First Secretary of State’s prime-time appearance at the despatch box could prove uncomfortable.
Labour has already said that he should step aside from his Cabinet post pending the inquiry, but the PM has insisted that natural justice should allow him to remain in his job during the Cabinet Office probe into the allegations.
Speaking on a flight to Jordan on Wednesday, May told reporters: “Obviously, there are considerations, the continuing of these issues. But he’s the First Secretary of State, he’s done Prime Minister’s questions before and I’m sure he’ll do a very good job.”
Wednesday marks four weeks since Green was first referred for investigation over his conduct towards young activist Kate Maltby.
Former Met police chief Bob Quick is understood to have told the inquiry that a Parliamentary computer found in Green’s Commons office contained ‘extreme’ pornography. Green has vehemently denied the claims against him.
May’s visit to Saudia Arabia and Jordan, shrouded in secrecy for security reasons until a No10 announcement, means that she will not be in London for her regular clash with Jeremy Corbyn.
Instead, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry is set to represent Labour, while Green deputises for May.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman defended the decision to allow Green to stand in for the PM.
“The inquiry procedure is ongoing. Once it has concluded, it will report back and the findings will be made public,” he said.
“Damian Green is the first Secretary of State and you would expect him to fill in for the Prime Minister at PMQs.”
Asked if the appearance would “demean the office” of such an important Government role, the spokesman replied: “There is an investigation that is ongoing, I’m not going to pre-empt that.”
And when asked if the report would be published, when completed, the spokesman replied: “I said the findings would be made public.”
Green has already taken Cabinet Office Question time since the probe began and at the weekend was sent by May to represent the Tories at the DUP annual party conference.
The First Secretary of State is a key figure in May’s government, chairing nine separate Cabinet sub-committees on everything from Brexit to housing and immigration.
He has been a friend of the PM’s since their time at Oxford University, but May has insisted she will consider the inquiry report without fear or favour.
Sue Gray, the Cabinet Office’s head of propriety and ethics, has led the inquiry and her report will be seen by the Prime Minister before any action in taken.
Earlier this week, No.10 left open the possibility that Gray’s report may not be published.
Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said: “The report needs to be published as a matter of urgency. The public are entitled to know who is running the country in the absence of the prime minister, and that person must do that without an investigation hanging over their head.”
Labour MP Lucy Powell said: “Full disclosure and transparency is absolutely key in these cases. Damian Green is the second most powerful politician in the country. That person needs to be beyond suspicion but doubts will remain unless they are completely open and honest.”