November 4, 2017 / 3:01 PM / a year ago

Britain's ruling Conservatives suspend lawmaker, refer his case to police

LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party has suspended a lawmaker over what it said were serious allegations, a step that could undermine the authority of her minority government as Britain seeks to iron out a Brexit deal with the European Union.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May meets Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 10 Downing Street, London November 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Giddens/Pool

May’s Conservative Party refused to give any detail about the nature of the allegations against Charlie Elphicke, a Conservative lawmaker for Dover in southern England, but said it had referred the matter to the police.

Elphicke, formerly a tax lawyer who was first elected in 2010, denied any wrongdoing.

“The party tipped off the press before telling me of my suspension,” he said on Twitter. “I am not aware of what the alleged claims are and deny any wrongdoing.”

May’s office did not respond to calls from Reuters about the allegations, whose nature was unclear. Email enquiries went unanswered. The Conservatives declined to comment.

May’s Conservatives and the opposition Labour Party are grappling with a slew of sexual harassment and abuse claims - many of them unsubstantiated - against British politicians.

The allegations have surfaced since the sexual abuse claims against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein prompted women and men in British politics to share stories about alleged improper behaviour.

One of May’s most loyal ministers, Michael Fallon, resigned as defence secretary on Wednesday. Fallon, who had admitted touching a radio presenter’s knee in 2002, said his past conduct had fallen below the required standard. He gave no details.

Separately on Saturday, a lawmaker from the Scottish National Party resigned from his cabinet post in the devolved Edinburgh administration after apologising for what he described as “inappropriate” actions.

“Where I have believed myself to have been merely humorous or attempting to be friendly, my behaviour might have made others uncomfortable or led them to question my intentions,” Mark McDonald, who represents Aberdeen Donside, said in a statement.

May set out the code of conduct for her party on Friday detailing standards and procedures expected of elected and appointed party members.

She lost her party’s majority in parliament with a botched bet on a snap election in June, so now has to rely on a small Northern Irish party to ensure she can pass legislation.

With the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), May has a slender working majority of about 13 in the 650-seat House of Commons.

Parliament remains bitterly divided over terms for Britain’s planned departure from the European Union. The pace of the Brexit talks remains slow, heightening the risk of Brexit in March 2019 without a deal on future relations with the EU, much to the alarm of business leaders.

Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Mark Heinrich

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