The reported arrest in the UK of a Conservative Member of Parliament over allegations of rape and sexual assault spanning seven years is drawing renewed attention to the culture of harassment at Westminster.
London police said Tuesday that an unnamed man in his 50s was detained on suspicion of indecent assault, abuse of position of trust and misconduct in a public office. The individual -- who the police declined to confirm is an MP -- has since been released on bail.
The office of Tory Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris, in charge of party management, said he’d urged the MP to stay away from Westminster while an investigation takes place. Still, the Conservatives haven’t suspended the MP, meaning he remains a member of the parliamentary party and could theoretically vote on legislation.
It’s just the latest scandal to beset lawmakers in Boris Johnson’s party in recent weeks. Last month, Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan quit his seat after being convicted for sexually assaulting a teenage boy in 2008. Two weeks later, another of the party’s lawmakers, Neil Parish, resigned after admitting to watching pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons chamber.
Any potential fresh criminal proceedings will take some time to resolve, keeping the allegations alive in the media, a situation that’s damaging for the party if an individual doesn’t resign their seat immediately -- as in the case of Ahmad Khan.
“I think there is a separate issue of how do we make the House of Commons a more professional working environment,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told LBC radio on Wednesday. “I don’t think that’s an excuse for people to commit appalling crimes.”
The slew of allegations are reminiscent of the 1990s when the Tories -- like the current Conservatives in power for more than a decade -- were hit with sex and corruption scandals that damaged its reputation as the party of law and order.
The Sunday Times reported last month that three members of Johnson’s cabinet are among 56 MPs facing allegations of sexual misconduct and have also been reported to Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme. Tory MP David Warburton was suspended earlier this year by his party over allegations of inappropriate behavior toward women and use of a banned substance.
Last year, former Tory MP Rob Roberts was given back his Conservative Party membership -- though not the parliamentary whip -- despite serving a suspension from the House of Commons after being found to have sexually harassed a staff member. He still sits as an independent.
Also last year, former Tory lawmaker Andrew Griffiths was found by a civil court judge to have raped and physically abused his then wife -- now a sitting member of parliament. Another Former Conservative MP, Charlie Elphicke, was jailed for two years after being found guilty in 2020 of sexually assaulting three women.
And while the Labour Party has had its share of wrongdoing, the attention on allegations against Tories is damaging the party’s reputation. Johnson himself became the first prime minister found to have broken the law while in office when London’s Metropolitan Police fined him last month for breaching the lockdown regulations his own government set during the pandemic.
©2022 Bloomberg L.P.
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