Downing Street said victims of sexual harassment should feel free to report it to the authorities, after the prime minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, was accused of inappropriately touching a former cabinet minister and a senior political journalist.
Caroline Nokes, who chairs the women and equalities committee, said Johnson had smacked her hard on the bottom in 2003, while he was in the running to be MP for Teignbridge in Devon.
Ailbhe Rea, political correspondent for the New Statesman, said she was grateful to Nokes for speaking out and said Johnson had “groped me at a party at Conservative conference in 2019”.
Johnson told Sky News he had “no recollection of Caroline Nokes at all” when approached by the broadcaster. The Home Office minister Damian Hinds said on Tuesday there should be an investigation into the claims “if that’s the appropriate course of action”.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases, but that Downing Street would encourage anyone who had experienced harassment to report it.
“I’m not going to be drawn into specific allegations against a private individual,” he said. “Of course, we would want anyone in any circumstances who feels they have been a victim of any kind of harassment to be free to come forward and report it to the appropriate authorities.”
Nokes later shared on Twitter an offensive email she had received from a member of the public as a result of highlighting her experience, which referred to her as a “filthy Tory whore”. Nokes said: “That is the level of discourse women MPs have to deal with, every single day.”
Nokes, the MP for Romsey, was speaking on a panel discussion with other MPs on Sky News. She said: “I’ve had male MPs stick their hands on my backside in Strangers’ Bar [in parliament].
“I can remember a really prominent man – at the time the Conservative candidate for Teignbridge in Devon – smacking me on the backside about as hard as he could and going: ‘Oh, Romsey, you’ve got a lovely seat.’
“I would have been in my early 30s, so old enough, old enough to call it out … I now regard it as a duty, an absolute duty, to call out wherever you see it. Be the noisy, aggravating, aggressive woman in the room because if I’m not prepared to do that, then my daughter won’t be prepared to do that … you do get to a point where you go, ‘up with this, I will not put’.”
After Nokes’ interview, Rea tweeted: “Stanley Johnson also groped me at a party at Conservative conference in 2019. I am grateful to Caroline Nokes for calling out something that none of us should have to put up with, not least from the prime minister’s father.”
Johnson, 81, failed in his attempt to become an MP in 2005. He told Sky News: “I have no recollection of Caroline Nokes at all – but there you go. And no reply … Hey ho, good luck and thanks.”
A biography of Boris Johnson by the journalist Tom Bower, published last year, included claims that the prime minister’s father had a violent temper and on one occasion broke his wife Charlotte’s nose. Stanley Johnson declined to comment on the claim at the time.
The Sky News panel also featured three other senior MPs talking about their views as legislators about what changes could be made to end sexual harassment and violence. The Labour MPs Jess Phillips and Rosena Allin-Khan, and the Conservative MP Fay Jones also talked about their own experiences of sexual harassment.
Both Phillips and Allin-Khan described being harassed at work in their previous jobs by senior managers. Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence, said she was assaulted by a former boss at a party.
Jones, who was elected in 2019, described how she was flashed at by a man when she was 17 years old.
Hinds said the government was committed to making it safer for women and girls. “I don’t know obviously about the … I’ve heard this morning, as you have, or overnight, about this, about these allegations,” he told Times Radio.
“I can say that, overall, in terms of the safety of women and girls, and being free from harassment wherever they are at home, at work, in the street, and online, this is an absolute top priority for the government.