Ministers face being fired in sex-pests crackdown

● Government to act against ‘inappropriate behaviour’

● MPs warn of Commons witch hunt

Ministers face being sacked if they make parliamentary staff feel uncomfortable under new anti-harassment rules to be introduced within days, the leader of the Commons said yesterday.

Andrea Leadsom pledged “very swift” action to strengthen protections for victims of sexual harassment after a slew of allegations of misconduct at Westminster and beyond since the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Her plans for a new independent grievance procedure brought fears among MPs of “overreaction” and a “witch-hunt”.

Last night a dossier compiled by Westminster researchers to document allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Tory MPs had swelled to 45 names. Claims were also circulating about at least five Labour MPs, including members of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. The claims are unverified, however, and MPs claimed they were becoming victims of “Chinese whispers”.

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Westminster women aren’t ‘wilting wimps’, says Tory MP

Women are not “wilting wimps” a prominent female Tory MP said today amid signs of a backlash against unsubstantiated rumours about the conduct of members of parliament.

The defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon apologised for putting his hand on a female journalist’s knee. The incident involved the radio host Julia Hartley-Brewer, who said she threatened to punch him in the face and that she does not regard it as “anything but mildly amusing”.

A spokesman for Sir Michael said: “He had apologised when the incident happened 15 years ago and both Julia and he now considered the matter closed.”

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Fallon case reminds us that MPs are addicted to risk

I completely disagree with the now-conventional wisdom that MPs become sex pests because of a lack of workplace procedures for victims to make a complaint. An MP who makes an unwarranted advance runs a far greater risk than most. A middle-manager making a fumbled pass in the offices of an insurance company might get a formal warning but is unlikely to be ruined, or attract much publicity beyond the workplace. MPs risk the wreckage of their whole political career, their names dragged through the national press and their faces on TV.

Michael Fallon’s whole reputation rested on being “a safe pair of hands”. He will now find that phrase greeted with hilarity. Sir Michael had a decent chance of being caretaker prime minister if Mrs May fell. He has none now, and must simply hope not to be sacked. A million men in Britain who have placed a hand on a woman’s knee, as he did to the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer, will reflect that their exposure to risk was minimal by comparison.

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