Nick Clegg was warned he would face a rebellion by Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords if he tried to remove the whip from the party’s former chief executive Lord Rennard over allegations of sexual harassment against the peer.
Mr Clegg is understood to have investigated the possibility of removing Lord Rennard’s right to sit in the Lords as a Liberal Democrat peer after an internal review found “credible” evidence that he subjected female party workers to behaviour that caused them distress.
But under party rules any such decision would have to be ratified by other Liberal Democrat peers, and it was made clear to Mr Clegg that they would not support such a move.
Despite a party ruling on Wednesday that Lord Rennard will not face any further action over the claims because it could not be proven “beyond reasonable doubt” that he had wrongful intentions, Mr Clegg again apologised to the women concerned and repeated his demand that Lord Rennard should also say sorry for his behaviour.
“It is frustrating for me when I think the women have been wronged and let down by the party. They are owed an apology and they are not being given the apology they deserve,” he said.
Yet he added that if someone refused to apologise, “I can’t frogmarch them to do so”.
Lord Rennard’s legal representative, the fellow Liberal Democrat peer Lord Carlile of Berriew, said there was no reason for an apology and criticised Alistair Webster QC, who was appointed by the party to investigate the allegations, for making that recommendation.
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