LONDON (AP) — A senior British Conservative Party politician arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault said Sunday the allegations against him are "completely false."
Deputy House of Commons Speaker Nigel Evans, 55, was arrested on Saturday. He was questioned about sex offenses that allegedly took place between July 2009 and March 2013 and was later released on bail.
Evans — who has served in Parliament for two decades and is one of Britain's most prominent gay lawmakers — said the allegations were made by "two people well known to each other" and who until a day earlier he had regarded as friends.
"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," he said, thanking colleagues and friends who echoed his own "sense of incredulity" over the allegations.
He did not address whether he would stay on as deputy speaker in his brief prepared statement on Sunday, but a spokesman for the House of Commons confirmed that Evans had asked to be excused from chairing the Queen's Speech debate due to start on Wednesday.
The debate comes after Queen Elizabeth II opens a new session of Parliament with a speech outlining the government's legislative plans, and lawmakers then debate the content of the speech over several days.
Lee Bridges, the spokesman, said Evans had asked Speaker John Bercow to excuse him from the debate in the House of Commons and that the speaker was "happy to give him that" time, which could last about a week.
British officials, including Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, expressed shock over his arrest, while Foreign Secretary William Hague called him a "popular and well-respected member of Parliament."
Evans has been a lawmaker for the Lancashire constituency since 1992. In June 2010, he was elected one of the three deputy speakers for the House of Commons.
Later that year, he told a newspaper he was gay, saying he was "tired of living a lie" and that opponents had threatened to expose his sexuality.
"I could not afford it to be used as leverage against me," he told The Mail on Sunday at the time. "I couldn't take the risk. I don't want any other MP to face that kind of nastiness again."
Cassandra Vinograd can be reached at http://twitter.com/CassVinograd