The Cabinet Office is to investigate whether Mark Garnier broke the ministerial code after he admitted asking his former assistant to buy sex toys.
Garnier, a minister in the Department for International Trade under Liam Fox, was the most senior of several politicians named in reports on Sunday, as allegations of sexual harassment swirl around Westminster after the Harvey Weinstein scandal encouraged #women in other professions to come forward.
The Conservative MP did not deny the accusations about events in 2010, made by his former assistant Caroline Edmondson in the Mail on Sunday.
“I’m not going to be dishonest,” Garnier said. He insisted that referring to Edmondson as “sugar tits”, as she says he did, was a reference to the popular BBC comedy Gavin and Stacey, saying: “It absolutely does not constitute harassment.”
The Cabinet Office inquiry was announced by Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, during an interview on BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
He said: “The stories, if they are true, are obviously totally unacceptable and the Cabinet Office will be conducting an investigation into whether there’s been a breach of the ministerial code in this particular case.”
Theresa May later wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, saying that the Commons disciplinary procedures lacked “teeth” and required urgent reform.
She said a situation where MPs did not have to follow procedures laid down by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) could not be tolerated any longer.
She asked for Bercow’s assistance in working on a cross-party basis to establish a new “house-wide mediation service” backed by a “contractually binding grievance procedure” available for all MPs.
A Conservative spokesman said: “As the prime minister has made clear, any reports of #sexual harassment are deeply concerning and any unwanted sexual behaviour is completely unacceptable in any walk of life, including politics.