politics

May's Top Cabinet Ally Damian Green Quits After Porn Claims

Updated on
  • First secretary is third cabinet minister to go in two months
  • Damian Green’s letter: ‘I regret I’ve been asked to resign’

Damian Green

Photographer: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s effective deputy, Damian Green, resigned after an official investigation found that he’d made misleading statements about pornography on one of his parliamentary office computers, and left questions unanswered about his behavior toward a female activist.

“I am extremely sad to be writing this,” May wrote in a letter to Green, released by her office, asking him to quit. “We have been friends and colleagues throughout our whole political lives.”

Click here for Theresa May’s letter to Damian Green

His departure strips her of one of the most loyal members of her government as she seeks to steer Britain’s path out of the European Union and rescue her struggling premiership. The 61-year-old and May knew each other since they were at Oxford University and he is one of her closest political allies -- ushered into the Cabinet after her election debacle.

Click here for Damian Green’s letter to Theresa May

He is the third member of her cabinet to leave office since the start of November. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon quit over inappropriate sexual behavior while Priti Patel stepped down as international development secretary after she misled the premier over private meetings with Israeli officials.

Click here for a summary of the cabinet secretary’s report

No Reshuffle

Unlike the previous two resignations, Green’s won’t require a Cabinet reshuffle -- his role came without a departmental portfolio -- and officials in May’s office said there were no immediate plans to replace him. May set off for a visit to Poland on Thursday morning.

It is not clear in any case who in the government could take over as May’s all-round trusted fixer and adviser.

One possible candidate is Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who was sent out on Thursday morning to give interviews on Green’s departure. “He lied on a particular incident,” Hunt told the BBC. He said May had sacked Green “very sadly, and I know with a very heavy heart. I’m sure she didn’t want him to go.”

Green’s is the latest and most senior British head to roll as a result of women coming forward to complain about inappropriate sexual behavior in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal.

In October, when that story broke, Green was asked whether he thought there were similar episodes in British politics. “People’s awareness generally of the facts that there are usually men in power who seek to exploit that power for bad purposes is the best defense against it,” he replied.

Two weeks later, he was himself in the spotlight, after a journalist and Conservative activist 30 years his junior, Kate Maltby, described how he had taken her for a drink in 2015 to discuss her political career.

Fleeting Hand

After discussing political sex scandals, she wrote, “he mentioned that his own wife was very understanding. I felt a fleeting hand against my knee — so brief, it was almost deniable.”

When the article was published, Green did indeed deny it, but May asked her civil servants to investigate whether he had broken the ministerial code. That investigation led a former senior officer from London’s Metropolitan Police, Bob Quick, to allege that pornography was found on a computer in Green’s office before he became a minister. 

Green described Quick’s accusations as “false, disreputable political smears” that “amount to little more than an unscrupulous character assassination.” Quick, who was in charge of a police raid on Green’s office in 2008 during an inquiry into leaks of government information, in turn threatened legal action if Green didn’t retract the claim.

Two more former police officers involved in the 2008 inquiry publicly backed Quick, a move condemned by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick. The inquiry, the conclusions of which were released by May’s office, found that it was “not possible to reach a definitive conclusion” on Maltby’s allegation, but added that it “found Ms Maltby’s account to be plausible.”

In his resignation letter, Green said he didn’t recognize Maltby’s version of events, “but I clearly made her feel uncomfortable and for this I apologize.”

But it seems to have been Green’s denials about the pornography that cost him his job.

The inquiry found that two statements Green made in November, a week apart, saying he hadn’t been told what was found on his computers, “were inaccurate and misleading, as the Metropolitan Police Service had previously informed him of the existence of this material.”

In his resignation letter Green said he still denied downloading or viewing pornography.

May received the report on Monday, according to a person in her office, and passed it to Alex Allan, her independent adviser on ministers’ interests. Allan replied on Wednesday that he agreed Green’s statements were breaches of the ministerial code.

May spoke to Green on Wednesday afternoon after her weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session and told him he would have to quit. In her letter to Green, May described her feelings as “deep regret, and enduring gratitude for the contribution you have made over many years.”

(Updates with Hunt comments in seventh paragraph.)
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