International trade minister Mark Garnier will continue in his post after a Cabinet Office investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour found that he did not break the ministerial code.
Theresa May said “a line should be drawn under the issue” after the probe found Mr Garnier had not breached expected standards of behaviour since becoming a minister.
The Prime Minister ordered the inquiry following allegations Mr Garnier used derogatory language to his secretary, asking her to buy sex toys before he became a minister.
The probe was sparked after Mr Garnier’s former secretary Caroline Edmondson told the Mail on Sunday he had given her money in 2010 to buy two vibrators at a Soho sex shop - one for his wife and one for a woman in his constituency office.
Ms Edmondson, who has since left to work for another MP, was quoted as saying that on another occasion in a bar, in front of witnesses, he told her: “You are going nowhere, sugar t**s.”
The Mail reported that Mr Garnier had admitted the claims, saying: “I’m not going to deny it, because I’m not going to be dishonest. I’m going to have to take it on the chin.”
The newspaper said Mr Garnier had conceded that, in the existing climate, his actions could look like “dinosaur behaviour”, but insisted: “It absolutely does not constitute harassment.”
A Number 10 spokesman said the Cabinet Office found no evidence to suggest Mr Garnier acted improperly after being appointed a minister last year.
In addition, there was a “significant difference of interpretation” between Mr Garnier and Ms Edmondson, the Cabinet Office concluded, while noting her distress.
The Downing Street spokesman said: “The Cabinet Office concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that Mr Garnier’s conduct as a minister since 2016 had breached the expected standards of behaviour.
“The Prime Minister’s view is therefore that Mr Garnier did not break the ministerial code while holding Government office.
“The Cabinet Office also took evidence in relation to an incident that happened before Mr Garnier was a minister, between Mr Garnier and a member of his parliamentary and constituency staff.
“The Cabinet Office concluded that there was no dispute about the facts of the incident, but there was a significant difference of interpretation between the parties, and that the member of staff in Mr Garnier’s office was distressed by what had occurred.
“It was not his intention to cause distress, and Mr Garnier has apologised unreservedly to the individual. On that basis the Prime Minister considers that a line should be drawn under the issue.”
Mr Garnier was cleared less than 24 hours after Mrs May sacked her de facto deputy Damian Green. The Cabinet Office had found Mr Green breached the ministerial code by making “misleading” statements over claims police found pornography on his Commons computer in 2008.