Theresa May’s most important ally in Government has been asked to leave his Cabinet job after a probe found he made “misleading” statements about pornography found on his Commons computer.
Damian Green was forced out after an investigation exposed he had known for years that the explicit material had been discovered by police, something at odds with his public comments.
The probe carried out by a senior Whitehall official also found claims from Conservative activist Kate Maltby that Mr Green made unwarranted advances on her were “plausible”, though it was not possible to prove them one way or the other.
In a letter, the Prime Minister said how “extremely sad” she was to have to let him go, but said that his actions set out by the investigation, meant she needed to ask him to resign. He responded apologising, but insisting he had never downloaded the pornography and denied Ms Maltby’s allegations.
The departure is a major blow to the Prime Minister who used Mr Green, an old university friend, as a deputy who could bring stability to her Cabinet as it threatened to implode following the June election fiasco.
She now must decide who, if anyone, replaces Mr Green, but The Independent understands she is unlikely to take a decision until after Christmas.
Mr Green is the second senior ranking minister and ally she has lost to Westminster’s sexual harassment scandal, which also saw Sir Michael Fallon resign from his defence secretary post earlier this year amid allegations of inappropriate conduct.
The inquiry against Mr Green was triggered after Ms Maltby, 30 years younger than Mr Green, claimed he “fleetingly” touched her knee during a meeting in a pub in 2015, and a year later sent her a “suggestive” text message after she was pictured wearing a corset in a newspaper.
But the investigation later spread to claims that pornography was found on his computer in 2008 and whether he had been honest in his statements on the matter.
Director General of Propriety and Ethics at the Cabinet Office, Sue Gray, had been trying to ascertain if Mr Green’s alleged behaviour happened when he was a minister and if it had breached rules governing the conduct of members of government.
A summary of the investigation from the Cabinet Office said allegations from Ms Maltby were found to be “plausible” but that it was not possible to reach a definitive conclusion on the appropriateness of Mr Green’s behaviour.
But, crucially, the Cabinet Office inquiry found problems with statements made by the First Secretary of State regarding allegations of indecent material found on his parliamentary computer almost a decade ago.
The report added: “Mr Green’s statements of 4 and 11 November, which suggested that he was not aware that indecent material was found on parliamentary computers in his office, were inaccurate and misleading, as the Metropolitan Police Service had previously informed him of the existence of this material.
“These statements therefore fall short of the honesty requirement of the Seven Principles of Public Life and constitute breaches of the Ministerial Code. Mr Green accepts this.”
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Green has described the allegations that he downloaded or viewed pornography on his parliamentary computer as “unfounded and deeply hurtful”.
The ex-minister wrote: “I regret that I’ve been asked to resign from the government following breaches of the Ministerial Code, for which I apologise.”
He then went on: “I accept that I should have been clear in my press statements that police lawyers talked to my lawyers in 2008 about the pornography on the computers, and that the police raised it with me in a subsequent phone call in 2013. I apologise that my statements were misleading on this point.”
Mr Green said that he did “deeply regret the distress caused to Kate Maltby” following her claims, but insisted he did not recognise them.
He added: “I clearly made her feel uncomfortable and for this I apologise.”
Ms May had brought her ally back in from the political wilderness as Work and Pensions Secretary in 2016, but it was after the botched 2017 election that he really made his presence felt.
With her credibility devastated, some in the Cabinet were eyeing Ms May’s job, while others feared Brexit could collapse. But she made a raft of swift changes, including instating Mr Green as her deputy.
In her letter to him on Wednesday evening, she wrote: “I am extremely sad to be writing this letter.
“We have been friends and colleagues throughout our whole political lives – from our early days at university, entering the House of Commons at the same election, and serving alongside each other both in opposition and in government.”
She said she understood the “considerable distress” caused to him by the allegations, but said she believed he shared her “commitment to maintaining the high standards which the public demands of Ministers of the Crown”.
She finished: “It is therefore with deep regret, and enduring gratitude for the contribution you have made over many years, that I asked you to resign from the Government and have accepted your resignation.”
A source close to Brexit Secretary David Davis confirmed he would not quit the Government in protest at Mr Green’s departure, despite a report earlier this month that he had threatened to resign if the First Secretary of State was forced out over the material found by the police.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael said: “Christmas can’t come early enough for Theresa May as her Cabinet continues to crumble.
“Midwinter is going to be especially bleak for a Government barely holding itself together.”
Mr Green was crucial to holding together the warring Brexit tribes of Ms May's Cabinet. While he had backed remain, he was respected by Leavers as being committed to withdrawal.
The Prime Minister must now decide if she brings someone else into a role effectively created for Mr Green, if she fills the void left by her ally herself or even conducts a wider reshuffle.
Either way she is not likely to rush to a decision, but instead will take soundings from other key figures including her Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell
It is the third Cabinet minister Ms May has lost following the departures of Sir Michael and Priti Patel, who was pushed out after holding secret meetings in Israel with top politicians, including the country's Prime Minister, without telling her leader.
There is still an outstanding Cabinet Office investigation into whether Mark Garnier, another more junior minister, broke the code of conduct by asking his secretary to buy him sex toys.
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