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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 June 2018

Britain's Defence Secretary quits over harassment scandal as new crisis hits May's government

Sir Michael Fallon has stepped down from his post the day after he confirmed he had touched a journalist's knee at a dinner

Britain's Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon has resigned from his post. Leon Neal/AP
Britain's Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon has resigned from his post. Leon Neal/AP

Britain's Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has resigned from his post the day after he admitted to touching a female journalist's knee.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Sir Michael confirmed that Julia Hartley-Brewer had sharply rebuked him for putting his hand on her knee during a dinner in 2002.

In his resignation letter on Wednesday, Sir Michael said that his past behaviour had "fallen short" of standards required of Britain's armed forces.

"A number of allegations have surfaced about MPs in recent days, including some about my previous conduct," the statement read.

"Many of these have been false but I accept that in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we require of the Armed Forces that I have the honour to represent."

Ms Hartley-Brewer has described Sir Michael stepping down from his post as "ridiculous".

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Sir Michael's resignation comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May attempts to deal with the sexual harassment scandal engulfing Parliament over the past week.

The 65-year-old, who has served as Defence Secretary since 2014, has been seen as a staunch ally of Mrs May, who lost her party's majority in this year's general election.

His resignation will undoubtedly further weaken her already-shaky position as leader.

Another of her allies, Damian Green, the first secretary of state who went to university with the prime minister, is accused of making flirtatious passes at a Tory activist and journalist. He has denied the claims.

Mr Green is one of 40 politicians from the ruling Conservative Party, including some serving in the Cabinet, who have been accused of sexual harassment in a leaked internal spreadsheet first published on the Guido Fawkes website.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mrs May called other British political leaders to a summit to address the increasing allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I’ve written to all party leaders inviting them to a meeting early next week so we can discuss a common, transparent independent grievance procedure for all those working in parliament,” she said. “We have a duty to ensure that everyone coming here to contribute to public life is treated with respect.”

Britain's main opposition party Labour has also been implicated in the scandal. On Tuesday, a Labour activist said she was persuaded by senior figures not to report a rape by a fellow party member to the police.

The scandal in Westminster was triggered by the recent accusations of sexual assault made against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Following a successful social media campaign where women shared their experiences of sexual harassment and assault using the hashtag MeToo, the spotlight has suddenly fallen on misbehaving politicians in Britain.