British PM calls for action after minister ‘asked secretary to buy sex toys’
Theresa May said sexual harassment among top politicians can’t be tolerated any longer
British Prime Minister Theresa May on Sunday called for tougher rules governing MPs’ conduct after a government minister was accused of asking his secretary to buy sex toys.
Expressing her concern in a letter to the House of Commons speaker – a lawmaker who acts as its impartial chief officer – May said current disciplinary procedures lack “the required teeth”.
“I do not believe that this situation can be tolerated any longer. It is simply not fair on staff, many of whom are young and in their first job post-education,” she wrote.
The premier’s letter was prompted by allegations against Mark Garnier by his former secretary in The Mail on Sunday.
Caroline Edmondson told the newspaper that the Conservative party lawmaker gave her money to buy two vibrators from a London sex store in 2010.
The paper also reported that Edmondson, who now works for another lawmaker, said Garnier also described her in lewd terms on one occasion, in front of witnesses.
The Cabinet Office – responsible for ensuring effective government – would investigate if Garnier’s behaviour violated ministerial codes of conduct, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Sunday.
“These stories, if they are true, are obviously totally unacceptable,” Hunt said.
The prime minister went further, saying the current suggested disciplinary procedure for MPs needed to be overhauled to make it contractually binding for lawmakers.
“I would be grateful if you would be able to use your office to assist me in doing all we can to ensure that the reputation of Parliament is not damaged further by allegations of impropriety,” May said in her letter.
May acted after The Sun newspaper last week said women working in the UK Parliament had set up a WhatsApp group to discuss their experiences at the hands of male politicians.
During the weekend, other newspapers also reported episodes without mentioning any officials by name.
Monday’s edition of The Daily Telegraph said as many as 13 lawmakers could be facing allegations, without saying how it got the information.
Garnier, a minister for international trade admitted the accusations according to The Mail on Sunday, calling the sex toys purchase “high jinks”.
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman confirmed the investigation into Garnier – a married father of three – but declined to comment further.
Garnier is the most senior of several British politicians named in media reports at the weekend accused of inappropriate behaviour or sexual harassment.
They are in the spotlight following the avalanche of harassment and rape allegations against disgraced Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Former Conservative party cabinet minister Stephen Crabb, a devout Christian, apologised on Saturday after a newspaper investigation found he had sent sexually explicit messages to a young female job applicant.
On Friday Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, called for an end to the “warped and degrading culture” at Westminster.
“The problem doesn’t stop with those who make unwanted advances on women, it extends to a culture that has tolerated abuse for far too long,” he said.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg