'Gay men are the MOST vulnerable' - Caroline Nokes speaks out on Westminster harassment culture

Caroline Nokes said young people working in Westminster remain regularly subjected to attacks

GAY men working in the House of Commons are the “most vulnerable” to harassment and abuse, a Tory MP has claimed.

Caroline Nokes spoke to Gloria De Piero in an exclusive GB News interview about young people 'regularly' being subject to attacks in Westminster.
Caroline Nokes spoke to Gloria De Piero in an exclusive GB News interview about young people 'regularly' being subject to attacks in Westminster.

Caroline Nokes also said young people working in Westminster remain regularly subjected to attacks, and that many male-victims are scared to come forward when they fall victim.

In an exclusive GB News interview Ms Nokes, the former Minister of State for Immigration, called for an urgent review into the way incidents are investigated and said new rules are needed to punish those responsible.

Ms Nokes also told GB News that she decided not to formally report Stanley Johnson - who allegedly slapped her on the bottom - because she didn’t think she would be believed.

Speaking to Gloria De Piero's Real Me show in an interview to be broadcast tomorrow (Sunday) Ms Nokes, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee addressed the culture of bullying and harassment at Westminster saying: “I've long said we should have a much tighter system of discipline, codes of conduct, that the whips from the different political parties should work together to make sure that everybody understands what the rules are.

“I was told a while ago that if I thought there was ever going to be an explicit code of conduct of what MPs could and couldn't do, I was deluded. Actually, I think we need that.

"If you were to behave like that in Tesco's or in a big accountancy firm, a bank, you'd be out on your ear. And what we have in Parliament is the inalienable right.

“If you're the electorate you have put faith in us to be your elected representative, there is currently no mechanism that can be used to stop you from going into that place. I think that's wrong.

"I think everybody wants to see something much more restrictive so that when you've got people who have been charged with serious sexual offences, is it right that we can't stop them from coming into Parliament?

“I think the numbers are relatively small, but the cases are very serious, and we should be looking at it through that prism. Not ‘Well, it's only a tiny number’, but actually, ‘Why are these serious incidents happening? What is it about power?’.

“I'm convinced that sexual harassment is not about sex, it's about the exploitation of power from one individual over another.

"And we absolutely have to redress that imbalance and make sure that young people working in Parliament, women working in Parliament, young gay men - I sometimes think that they are the most vulnerable - that we give them a mechanism where they know that they're going to be protected.”

Caroline Nokes spoke about an alleged incident in 2003 involving father of Boris Johnson, Stanley.
Caroline Nokes spoke about an alleged incident in 2003 involving father of Boris Johnson, Stanley.

On why she feels young gay men are the most vulnerable Ms Nokes continued: “Because people don't talk about it. And I think that there is still a taboo around homosexuality.

"And there have been some cases where I can think of individuals who've harassed both male and female members of staff, and the female member of staff has had all the sympathy, all of the column inches in the press and there'll be this ‘and also’ when it comes to the young gay man.

"I think that that's a really fascinating insight into to how our psychology still works around homosexuality. People are still afraid of coming out in 2022.

"Now, you know, that that shouldn't be right, we should all be perfectly free to be who we are. So that worries me to a huge extent, that there are still young men who are absolutely terrified of coming forward.”

Ms Nokes also discussed an alleged incident in 2003 involving Stanley Johnson, the father of the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

She said: “I was at the reception of a hotel checking into my B&B on the Blackpool Sea Front and he smacked me on the backside and said, ‘Oh Romsey, you've got a lovely seat’.

"It lives with me to this day. And I told plenty of people. I never reported it as a complaint because firstly didn't know what channels there were, second I didn't think I’d be believed, and third I genuinely thought it would be a lot easier to get rid of Caroline Nokes, you know, up and coming candidate for the marginal seat of Romsey than it would be to get rid of somebody like Stanley Johnson who was a former MEP.

“He, at the time, was a candidate somewhere down in the West Country. And I just thought ‘Who do I go to? Who's going to believe me? And what will this do to my career if I talk about it?’.

"Now look, I'm a much older, seasoned politician now, and although I was accused of lying by one former cabinet minister, the account is completely accurate, and people listen to it.

"I wanted to convey the message that if I'm still not prepared to talk about it and report it, then how are younger people in politics ever going to have the courage to speak out about the hideous experiences that some of them have been through and continue to go through?”

Mr Johnson later said he had no recollection of the incident. Commenting on how she felt when she heard that Ms Nokes said: “Completely unbothered. That is a man who can have no impact upon me, and I'm not interested in his views on anything.”

Ms Nokes also said the alleged incident was one of many she’d experienced in politics.

“I've been around politics a very long time when I was a lot younger, thinner, and prettier,” she said.

Caroline Nokes says it is 'easy' to laugh off incidents in Westminster.
Caroline Nokes says it is 'easy' to laugh off incidents in Westminster.

“And to be quite frank, it's commonplace, and some much more serious than others. And mostly, you develop an incredibly hard shell, so it just bounces off.

"It's easier in Parliament to allow yourself to become ‘one of the lads’, to just laugh off incidents. And actually, the view I take now is, ‘Look, we can't do that. We as women can't do that.’

"Nobody should do that, and not only must we be brave enough to report and talk about and highlight the incidents that happen, but we should also be prepared to confront and call it out when we see it happening to colleagues, to young staffers.

"And I think that's a huge responsibility that I feel now. Look, I'm a 50-year-old woman now, it takes quite a lot to make me flinch. But I still see much younger people in Parliament who are subject to unwanted advances, who talk about the bullying and harassment that they received.

"And you know, it's incumbent upon all of us, wherever we see it happen, whether it's in Parliament, whether it's on the tube, to call it out when you see it.

"To humiliate those people who still think it's OK to inappropriately touch others, who think it's OK to make unwanted comments. And that's why I think things like making public sexual harassment a specific crime are so important. It just sends a message, ‘Look, this is intolerable, we're not going to accept it any longer and all of us have a role to play in calling it out’.

On the criticism she receives from some in her party, Ms Nokes added: “I’m frequently referred to as ‘Woke Nokes’. Try having a surname that actually rhymes with it, that's no fun.

"Look, I always challenge back. When people say, ‘You're so woke’, I look at them and say, ‘Well, what do you mean by woke? What's the actual definition of woke?’.

"And I think we would all agree that it means being aware of those who suffer discrimination, particularly around race. And so, look, if people want to accuse me of being woke, I wear it as a badge of pride.”