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Harriet Harman rejects claims of witch hunt as more MPs drawn into sleaze claims

She said “it’s not a witch hunt, it’s long overdue”.

Labour’s Harriet Harman has hit back at claims that Westminster is in the grip of a witch hunt as accusations of sexual harassment continue to swirl around Parliament.

The former deputy party leader told the BBC: “There are a lot of men saying this has been totally blown out of all proportion, this a witch hunt. No, it’s not a witch hunt, it’s long overdue.”

The remarks were at odds with Tory backbencher Sir Roger Gale who said MPs and other prominent figures were on a “hiding to nothing” as it was difficult to refute claims about alleged incidents years ago.

Giving a hypothetical example of a woman claiming a man kissed her in a lift five years ago, Sir Roger told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “How does a Member of Parliament refute that? It’s a witch hunt.”

The comments came as a string of MPs moved to deny allegations of inappropriate conduct.

And shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said she is ashamed at some of the “disgusting” allegations of sexual abuse in the Labour Party.

Ms Thornberry, who said she had experienced inappropriate behaviour, told the BBC: “Some of the things that I have heard in the last week have been so disgusting and I am ashamed that this could happen in the Labour Party.”

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell called for party leaders to agree new independent procedures when they meet next week to discuss how to deal with sexual harassment claims.

He told the BBC: “We have had one of our members come forward and said that she was raped. That is just unacceptable.

“We have had sexual harassment across all the political parties by the looks of it. So, we have got to tackle it.”

Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Bew, said outside bodies needed to be involved in harassment investigations to avoid claims of a cover up.

He told the BBC: “The parties need to get a grip of this issue of accountability. It’s vital that these things are not seen to be done in-house.

“It is vital that there are people outside Parliament in cases of harassment, and so on, who are there, who can give some reassurance to the public that this is not just another cover up.”

As Westminster was hit by fresh claims of inappropriate behaviour, three MPs denied wrongdoing.

Norwich South MP Clive Lewis denied a claim that he groped a woman at the Labour conference in September after it emerged that the party was investigating a formal complaint against him.

Former Foreign Office minister Ivan Lewis denied he had made non-consensual sexual advances toward women.

The Bury South MP made the remarks after BuzzFeed News reported that a woman alleged he had touched her leg and invited her to his house when she was 19 and at a Labour Party event in 2010.

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Ivan Lewis. (Dave Thompson/PA)

Mr Lewis said he had “never made non-consensual sexual comments or sexual advances to women”.

Suspended Labour MP Kelvin Hopkins said he categorically denied allegations of inappropriate conduct made by activist Ava Etemadzadeh which the party is investigating.

Meanwhile, Tory former minister Anna Soubry claimed to the Times that Downing Street had received a new allegation against Sir Michael Fallon before his shock resignation as defence secretary.

The newspaper reported that Sir Michael said the claim was untrue and libellous. Downing Street declined to comment.

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