May’s aides ‘sat on’ claims of Tory sleaze
Minister and chief of staff face pressure over allegation that complaints were not heeded
THERESA MAY was under pressure last night to disclose what two of her closest allies knew about allegations made against senior Conservatives, amid claims they “sat on” accusations about MPs’ conduct.
The Sunday Telegraph understands that concerns about the behaviour of Sir Michael Fallon, the former defence secretary, were raised repeatedly in the whips’ office when Gavin Barwell, who is now the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, was “number three” there.
Separately, a serious allegation about the Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, then a whip himself, was made to the office in the same period, before Gavin Williamson – whom the Prime Minister appointed on Thursday as Sir Michael’s successor – became chief whip.
In taking charge of the whips’ office in July last year, Mr Williamson would have been briefed on any major concerns about Tory MPs, insiders said.
The woman who complained about Mr Elphicke last year is understood to have asked the party not to call in the police. However, Julian Smith, the new Chief Whip, referred Mr Elphicke to police on Friday night and suspended him following a fresh allegation.
Last night, one senior Conservative said the former whips would face “real difficulties if it emerged that there were a string of people raising concerns and they were not taking it forward”. Another source said it appeared the whips might have “sat on” allegations.
Anna Soubry, the former defence minister, said: “It’s difficult to believe that the whips’ office didn’t know much of the detail of these various allegations and they probably know more. I am astonished that Gavin Williamson was appointed as Defence Secretary.” In other developments yesterday: Stephen Crabb, the former minister who sent a young woman sexually explicit messages after rejecting her job application, became the first Tory MP to be referred for investigation under the party’s new code of conduct;
A Cabinet source hit out at criticism of Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the Commons, after she faced vitriol for raising complaints with the Prime Minister about Sir Michael’s behaviour;
Ministers accused John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, of “shirking responsibility” by claiming that it was for political parties to adopt effective “grievance schemes” to handle complaints;
European diplomats said the events of the past week were a further sign of “weakness” as Brexit talks continue.
Sir Michael resigned on Wednesday after Mrs Leadsom raised complaints
about his behaviour with No10. Last night it also emerged that hours before Sir Michael’s resignation, No 10 had been approached with an allegation that he lunged at a female journalist after a lunch in 2003 and tried to kiss her.
It is understood that inappropriate behaviour by Sir Michael was raised several times to whips, including during Mr Barwell’s time as “number three” in the office between 2015 and 2016.
Mr Elphicke was reported to the whips before last year’s leadership election by a woman who asked for the matter not to be passed to the police. Mr Elphicke did not remain a whip after Mrs May was elected leader.
On Friday night, the MP was suspended following a further allegation by a separate individual. In a statement released shortly after 9pm on Friday, Mr Smith, who became Chief Whip on Thursday, said: “I have suspended the party whip from Charlie Elphicke following serious allegations that have been referred to the police.” A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the party had passed on an allegation about a “serious matter”, which was being assessed. “No arrests have been made.”
This weekend backbenchers warned against assuming those facing allegations were guilty. But several raised questions about whether claims were properly investigated and if the whips considered their “duty of care” to others in the party and Parliament.
On Friday night, Mr Elphicke said: “The party tipped off the press before telling me of my suspension. I am not aware of what the alleged claims are and deny any wrongdoing.”
Scotland’s children’s minister, the SNP’s Mark McDonald, has quit after complaints of inappropriate behaviour.