Nadine Dorries was embroiled in a row with fellow Tory MP Caroline Nokes this weekend after the culture secretary dismissed her allegations of inappropriate touching against the prime minister’s father.
Dorries said she had known Stanley Johnson for 15 years and described him as a gentleman. She rejected Nokes’s claim that he had “smacked her on the backside” at the Conservative party conference in 2003. “I don’t believe it happened,” she said in an interview with the Daily Mail. “It never happened to me. Perhaps there is something wrong with me.”
Nokes, chair of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, said she was disappointed at the comments and hoped they did not deter others from reporting sexual harassment.
She told the Press Association: “I am very sorry the secretary of state has used her considerable influence and power in the media to denounce me in this way. I very much hope her attitude does not deter other women from being brave enough to report their experiences of public sexual harassment.”
A source close to the culture secretary tried to defuse her comments. “Nadine knows she should have been clearer in her answer. Having known Stanley for so long she found it hard to believe he had been inappropriate,” they said.
“But she is crystal clear that those who experience sexual harassment should always be able to speak up and always be heard. She was not looking to denounce Caroline and regrets if that is how her comment has been received.”
The government said in its response to a consultation on sexual harassment in the workplace in July that there was “a real, worrying problem with sexual harassment at work, as well as in other settings”. It said more women were “empowered to share their experiences”.
Nokes, the MP for Romsey and Southampton North, claimed in an interview with Sky News earlier that month that Stanley Johnson had smacked her bottom and said, "Oh, Romsey, you’ve got a lovely seat.” Johnson, 81, has said he has no recollection of the alleged incident.
Nokes has said there has been a mixed reaction after she spoke out. She said there had been “amazing support” from constituents and women around Westminster, but she had “been sent to Coventry by some”.
Ailbhe Rea, a political correspondent for the New Statesman, claimed after the MP’s interview that Mr Johnson had groped her and “leered” at her at a Conservative party conference in 2019.
She wrote in the magazine: “I didn’t want Nokes to be alone in calling out something I knew hadn’t only happened to her.”
Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, who appeared on the Sky News discussion where Nokes first detailed the allegation, said it was a “common mistake” for people to think individuals they like cannot perpetrate sexual harassment or violence.
“It’s the thing that silences victims. It reminds them to shut up about their experiences," lei disse.
“I’ve got to say I expected better from Nadine. I’m not surprised, though – it’s the most common response, to disbelieve. I’m not entirely sure why she thinks Caroline would lie. Where’s the benefit?"
Labour has called on the Conservative party to investigate the allegations against Johnson, but it has not said whether a probe will be launched.