LONDON, UK — The deputy speaker of Britain's House of Commons on Sunday flatly denied allegations of rape and sexual assault made against him.
Nigel Evans, a senior Conservative member of Parliament, was interrogated by Lancashire police for most of the day Saturday.
Two men in their 20s have made accusations against him. He is alleged to have raped one of the men and sexually assaulted another between July 2009 and March 2013.
"Yesterday I was interviewed by the police concerning two complaints – one of which dates back four years, made by two people who are well-known to each other, and who until yesterday I regarded as friends," he said in a statement.
"The complaints are completely false and I cannot understand why they have been made, especially as I have continued to socialize with one as recently as last week."
Evans will step aside temporarily as deputy speaker amid party concerns that he will overshadow the Queen's Speech Wednesday, the official opening of Parliament that lays out the legislative agenda for the year.
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Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said it would be hard for him to remain in a leadership position during the investigation. "It is quite difficult to carry out a sensitive and high-profile role while being under this kind of scrutiny," he told the BBC.
Other colleagues in Parliament were quick to back Evans publicly.
"If we allow the habit to develop that senior people in public life have to stand down on the basis of allegations, it is scope for all sorts of pressures, or even blackmail. That would be unhealthy," former shadow home secretary David Davis said. "I find it impossible to believe the allegations."
In 2009, Evans was questioned by a fellow MP over accusations that he'd made unwanted sexual advances toward a man while they were drinking together.
The Telegraph reported that parliamentary whips spoke to Evans about the accusations but did report the to the Conservative party or to police. A friend of Evans said he characterized the complaint as a "misunderstanding," according to the Telegraph.
"It is understood Mr Evans, 55, and the man who accused him of inappropriate conduct continued to associate with each other afterwards," the report said.
Colleagues, friends and constituents said they were shocked by the latest accusations.
"Nigel Evans MP has represented the Ribble Valley Constituency with distinction for 21 years. He is widely liked and respected by his constituents for whom he has worked tirelessly," read a statement on the Ribble Valley Conservatives website. "The officers and members of the Ribble Valley Conservative Association have got to know and respect him and are shocked about his arrest. We are believers in the rule of Law and are aware that these are merely allegations."
Evans is openly gay, having disclosed his sexuality at the launch of a Parliamentary group set up to help MPs and staff be open about their sexuality in 2010.
"I am sure there are other gay MPs who would like to be open about their sexuality but are fearful of the consequences. I hope this new group will help them to do so," Evans said at the time.
Corinne Purtill contributed to this report from London.