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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

‘British sex-pest MPs named in secret WhatsApp group’ as sexual harassment scandal reaches Westminster

A British tabloid has reportedly seen a WhatsApp group message, in which female staff in Westminster name male politicians who are notorious for their lecherous behaviour

British tabloid The Sun reported that a secret WhatsApp group message exists, in which women working in the Houses of Parliament name male politicians that are notorious for their lecherous behaviour. Neil Hall/ Reuters
British tabloid The Sun reported that a secret WhatsApp group message exists, in which women working in the Houses of Parliament name male politicians that are notorious for their lecherous behaviour. Neil Hall/ Reuters

The sexual harassment scandal that began in Hollywood earlier this month has reached the heart of Britain’s democracy, as it was alleged on Friday that female staff working in Westminster have frequently been subjected to unwanted advances by male MPs.

British tabloid The Sun reported that a secret WhatsApp group message exists, in which women working in the Houses of Parliament name male politicians that are notorious for their lecherous behaviour.

Women posting on the group tell stories of being groped at various events, while warning their female colleagues not to be alone with certain politicians.

One source described a politician as being “very handsy”, while another said she had been inappropriately touched during a drinks party.

Those named in the group are said to cross party lines and include senior politicians, government aides and even a cabinet minister.

A member of the group told the publication that “the usual old suspects are there” but “there have been some surprising younger names crop up.”

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John Mann, a backbench MP for opposition party Labour, suggested on Wednesday that an MP from his own party had been removed from a foreign trip for inappropriate behaviour towards a female member of staff during a debate in the House of Commons.

Later on, Mr Mann threatened to out the MP in a Twitter post. He wrote: “I will be naming a Labour MP who behaved appalling towards a young woman.”

The Women’s Equality Party, a feminist political party, said the allegations were no surprise given the results of a survey the group carried out last year.

"This news comes as no surprise: our #WECount campaign last year highlighted several incidents of harassment in Westminster,” party leader Sophie Walker told The National.

“We asked women to write on their palms the postcode where they had been assaulted and post it anonymously on social media: a number wrote SW1A 0AA [the postcode of the Houses of Parliament].”

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she disagrees with US President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Andy Rain/ EPA
British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she disagrees with US President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Andy Rain/ EPA

British Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement on Friday in response to the allegations, advising those who have experienced unwanted sexual behaviour in Parliament to go to the police.

"Any reports of sexual harassment are deeply concerning,” a Downing Street spokeswoman said:

"The Prime Minister was very clear when we responded to the reports about Harvey Weinstein in the last few weeks that any unwanted sexual behaviour is completely unacceptable, and that is true in any walk of life - including politics.

"Any allegations that may come to light will be taken extremely seriously and we would advise people to contact the police if there is such an allegation so that it's fully investigated."

A spokesman for Parliament’s lower chamber, the House of Commons, said the body took the welfare of those who worked there “very seriously”.

“The House of Commons takes the welfare of everyone who works in Parliament very seriously. The House is limited in its ability to intervene in employment matters, such as allegations of bullying or harassment by MPs of their staff as MPs are self-employed and employ their staff directly,” a spokesman said.

“We provide HR advice to MPs through the Members’ HR Advice Service, who also promote good employment practices. A free confidential helpline is provided by the House of Commons and available 24/7 for all Members’ staff.”

In the wake of the scandal, the House of Commons Commission said it will discuss issues relating to MPs’ staff when it next meets.

The allegations in Parliament follow a week of revelations about sexual assaults prompted by the Harvey Weinstein abuse scandal. Movie mogul Weinstein is accused of raping and sexually assaulting more than 50 women.

A social media campaign, started by American actor Alyssa Milano who has herself accused Mr Weinstein of sexual assault, saw women sharing their experiences of sexual harassment using the hashtag #MeToo.

European Parliament members held placards with the hashtag #MeToo during a debate to discuss preventive measures against sexual harassment and abuse in the EU. Christian Hartmann/ Reuters
European Parliament members held placards with the hashtag #MeToo during a debate to discuss preventive measures against sexual harassment and abuse in the EU. Christian Hartmann/ Reuters

Earlier this week, the Sunday Times newspaper revealed that it had spoken to female staff at the European Parliament- the directly elected parliamentary institution of the European Union- who had been subjected to sexual harassment by male MEPs.

One female junior aide, who was not named by the paper because she feared it might affect her career, described the institution as “an absolute hotbed of harassment” because MEPs deliberately hire young females as assistants to prey upon them.

The allegations prompted an emergency debate on sexual harassment, while female MEPs shared their own experiences of sexual harassment bearing placards with the #MeToo in solidarity with women across Europe.

British MEP Mary Honeyball, who was elected to the European Parliament in 2000, said she was confident the institution would do all it could to address the issue.

“Like everyone else I was shocked to learn that it was going it on at all let alone the extent of the problem which it has subsequently come to light,” she told The National.

“It is a problem that it has continued for so long but I am pleased that the European Parliament has shown it is a progressive institution and has addressed the problem almost as soon as it came to light; by way of an emergency debate, resolution and vote."