LONDON — Britain’s defense minister resigned Wednesday after allegations emerged about inappropriate sexual behavior — the latest twist in a growing scandal over harassment and abuse in the country’s corridors of power.
Michael Fallon said in a resignation letter to Prime Minister Theresa May that his “previous conduct … may have fallen below the high standards that we require of the Armed Forces.”
Fallon, 65, was first elected to Parliament in 1983 and has been defense secretary since 2014.
A newspaper reported last weekend that Fallon had repeatedly touched a journalist’s knee at a function in 2002. The journalist in question said she had shrugged off the incident, but reports suggested that other allegations about Fallon might soon emerge.
Accepting his resignation, May said she appreciated “the characteristically serious manner in which you have considered your position.”
The scandal surrounding Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has emboldened people in many industries to speak up about sexual harassment or attacks at the hands of powerful individuals who control their future job prospects.
In Britain, it has produced soul-searching about the growing number of reports of sexual harassment and abuse in politics. May has called a meeting of party leaders to discuss how to deal with the topic, amid a growing roster of allegations about inappropriate behavior by politicians and parliamentary staff.
May has also ordered an investigation into claims another senior minister made inappropriate advances to a Conservative activist.
Writer and academic Kate Maltby says Cabinet minister Damian Green “fleetingly” touched her knee in 2015 and later sent her a “suggestive” text message after she was pictured wearing a corset in a newspaper.
Maltby wrote in the Times of London newspaper that Green “offered me career advice and in the same breath made it clear he was sexually interested.”
“It was not acceptable to me at the time and it should not be acceptable behavior in Westminster in the future,” Maltby wrote.
Green, Britain’s de facto deputy prime minister, denied making sexual advances and called the allegations “a complete shock” and “deeply hurtful.”
May’s office said the prime minister had asked the head of the civil service to “establish the facts and report back as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, an opposition Labour Party activist said the party discouraged her from reporting that she was raped at a Labour conference in 2011 when she was 19. Bex Bailey said a party official told her “that if I did, it might damage me.”
The party said it was investigating the report.
Labour lawmaker Lisa Nandy said Wednesday that she had raised concerns three years ago that party whips kept claims of sexual abuse as ammunition to control lawmakers, rather than dealing with the allegations.
May said the whips should make it clear that allegations of crimes should be reported to police.
She has asked other party leaders to meet her next week to discuss setting up an independent grievance procedure for people working in Parliament.
“We have a duty to ensure that everyone coming here to contribute to public life is treated with respect,” she told lawmakers during her weekly session in the House of Commons.