Theresa May’s cabinet unity has been shaken after it emerged that Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons, played a key role in ending the career of defence secretary Michael Fallon.
Ms Leadsom did not deny a report in The Sun newspaper that she went to Number 10 to denounce Sir Michael’s behaviour, including a claim that he used derogatory comments of a sexual nature towards her.
She accused Sir Michael of making a string of inappropriate remarks when they were both members of the Commons Treasury committee between 2010 and 2012, including crudely advising her where to put her cold hands.
Sir Michael said it was “completely untrue” that he made such remarks but he did not deny that Ms Leadsom had made the allegations to the prime minister. Ms Leadsom has not denied making the claims and Downing Street also declined to comment.
One cabinet ally of Sir Michael told The Sun: “He made mistakes in the past, but what the f*** does Leadsom think she’s doing? We’re supposed to be a team. Does she want to bring down the whole f***ing government?”
Ms Leadsom reportedly took her complaint to Number 10 on Tuesday in the belief that Mrs May was not taking sufficiently seriously allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Sir Michael.
The previous evening the former defence secretary had confirmed putting his hand on the knee of the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer 15 years earlier, but Number 10 regarded the matter as closed.
The revelations come as a tide of sexual harassment allegations is washing over Westminster. Earlier this week an anonymous list of allegations against 36 Conservative MPs was published.
The Labour party has also been rocked by claims of rape, harassment and improper behaviour. Kelvin Hopkins, a close ally of party leader Jeremy Corbyn, was suspended by Labour on Thursday evening as the party investigated unspecified allegations against the veteran MP.
Ms Leadsom had said earlier in the week that “if people are made to feel uncomfortable that is not correct”, and promised that offenders in all political parties should be punished. Mrs May is said to have confronted Sir Michael with the new allegations on Wednesday afternoon.
Sir Michael quit on Wednesday night, admitting his behaviour had “fallen short”, but the prospect of one cabinet minister having brought about the end of another’s career will feed further poison and suspicion into the top of the Conservative party.
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