Leaders of the main parties at Westminster are to meet on Monday to discuss the allegations further © AFP
Britain’s government is preparing for sudden by-elections in case its MPs have to step down because of sexual misconduct allegations sweeping through Westminster.
The Conservative party failed to win a majority at the June 8 general election and has a slim 12-seat advantage only because of a deal it struck with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists, leaving it in a precarious position.
On Sunday, Amber Rudd, the home secretary, suggested it would be a “positive thing” if there was a “clearing out” of politicians found to have sexually harassed others, raising the prospect that some MPs might leave parliament.
“We have been told to leave nothing to chance and have drawn up a whole raft of contingency plans,” said one Conservative staffer.
The allegations, which range from groping and inappropriate language to rape, have also swept up the opposition Labour party.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, said Westminster had a “warped and degrading” culture of harassment, and that abuse of power was “hiding in plain sight”. Mr Corbyn told his party’s North West conference on Sunday the allegations should signify a “moment of real change”.
Damian Green, the deputy prime minister, is the most high-profile politician to be accused of inappropriate behaviour. Anna Soubry and Heidi Allen, Conservative MPs, have said he should stand aside while he is investigated.
Mr Green has denied a claim that police found pornography on his computer at his Westminster office during a raid in 2008. The allegations by Bob Quick, a former assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, were “completely untrue” and “political smears”, he said.
The senior Tory also denied a claim by Kate Maltby, a journalist, of “fleetingly” touching her knee and sending her a “suggestive” text message.
Mr Quick is expected to give evidence on Monday to a Cabinet Office inquiry led by Sue Gray, the department’s head of propriety, which was prompted by the Maltby allegations.
Asked if the government would collapse without Mr Green, Ms Rudd said: “Absolutely not. I think it is something that will take place, in terms of clearing out Westminster of that sort of behaviour, and Westminster, including the government, will be better off after it.”
On Friday Theresa May announced a new code of conduct, saying inquiries into allegations of harassment would be conducted by a panel of three or more people.
The Tory MPs Dan Poulter and Stephen Crabb have already been referred to the new disciplinary system.
Mr Poulter refused to comment on Sunday about allegations in the Sunday Times about inappropriate behaviour towards female MPs. Mr Crabb, a former leadership contender, was referred on Saturday after admitting sending “outrageous” texts to a 19-year-old woman who had applied for a job in his office.
Leaders of the main parties at Westminster will meet on Monday to discuss the sleaze scandal further.
The allegations, which followed the exposure of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, have already led to the resignation of former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon, the suspension of Labour MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Jared O’Mara and the reporting to police of Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke.
Carl Sargeant, a Labour politician in the Cardiff assembly, has stepped down from the Welsh government to defend his name while Stuart Cullen, a former Tory candidate in Scotland, has been suspended from his party.
Mr Elphicke said he did not know what the accusations are, and Mr Cullen denies all accusations. Mr Hopkins denies groping and Mr O’Mara denies verbally insulting a woman.
Mark McDonald, Scotland’s childcare minister and a member of the Scottish National party, resigned on Saturday over “inappropriate actions”. Monica Lennon, a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament, has alleged she was groped by a senior male colleague at a party in 2013.
Ms Soubry, a prominent Tory, said the prime minister needed to show leadership and put in place an independent complaints system immediately so victims and alleged perpetrators did not face “trial by newspaper”.