Boris Johnson is facing accusations he ignored warnings about alleged sexual misconduct by his former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher, after a string of further claims about the MP emerged.
The prime minister is under pressure to explain what he knew about Pincher’s conduct, amid claims by the former No 10 aide Dominic Cummings that Johnson referred to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”.
Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday after allegations that he drunkenly groped two men in a Piccadilly club. He had the whip withdrawn after a report to parliament’s independent complaints system.
A further slew of six allegations about Pincher’s sexual conduct emerged in the Sunday newspapers, including claims of groping MPs. There was also a report that one Tory MP, Craig Whittaker, resigned from the whips’ office when Pincher was promoted in February. Pincher has denied the allegations.
'n Nee 10 source acknowledged that Johnson “probably” knew about general allegations about Pincher and the nickname of “Pincher by name etc” but argued he was unable to look into “unsubstantiated rumour” before appointing him deputy chief whip in February.
Speaking to broadcasters, Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, insisted Johnson was “not aware of specific claims” about Pincher but could not deny he had been told about more general concerns.
She told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: “I am aware that the prime minister was not aware of specific claims that had been made.”
Egter, Coffey acknowledged she had not spoken to the prime minister himself. She said she had been told by the No 10 press office that Johnson did not know about any specific claims.
In a statement at the weekend, Pincher said he respected the prime minister’s decision to remove the whip. “As I told the prime minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others, and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused," hy het gesê.
“The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support. I am in the process of seeking that now, and I hope to be able to return to my constituency duties as soon as possible.”
Coffey highlighted that Pincher was cleared by a previous investigation after Alex Story, a former professional rower and Tory candidate, accused him of making unwanted passes and acting like a “poundshop Harvey Weinstein”.
Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, described Coffey’s responses as “desperate”. Hy het gesê: “I think we’ve got to acknowledge what the consistent problem is and it is a Conservative party that repeatedly chooses to do what is politically expedient over what is right. It’s clear from what we know this morning that Chris Pincher should never have been put back into the whips’ office.”
The Labour MP Jess Phillips highlighted the onus on victims to go through a formal complaints system and the lack of independence in party inquiries.
“The whole system that relies on victims doing all the work to force the people with all the power to do the right thing is a problem. It provides cover for politicians who know fine well about colleagues’ behaviour to sit back and do nothing," sy het gese.
“Pincher was cleared before by a completely non-independent investigation by the Conservative party. Same system that said Rob Roberts did nothing wrong also. Same system that gave Charlie Elphicke en Andrew Griffiths the whip back.”