LONDON: Boris Johnson was facing questions over his delay in suspending the Tory whip from an MP accused of drunkenly groping two men at a private members’ club.
Fresh allegations emerged against Chris Pincher after the Prime Minister bowed to pressure when an investigation was launched by Parliament’s sexual misconduct watchdog on Friday.
Mr Pincher quit as Tory deputy chief whip when allegations of unwanted touching at London’s Carlton Club emerged a day earlier. With the whip suspended, Mr Pincher will sit as an independent in the Commons but was remaining as the MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire, despite opponents saying his position is untenable. The Prime Minister had been resisting calls to act until the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) launched an investigation after receiving a formal complaint.
Mr Johnson spoke to several individuals on Friday, including a Tory MP who was with one of the men who was allegedly groped by Mr Pincher, a Downing Street source said.
“The account given was sufficiently disturbing to make the PM feel more troubled by all this,” the source told the PA news agency. Further claims were levelled against Mr Pincher, with the Times reporting a young Tory activist receiving an unwanted sexual advance last year.
The activist said the MP put his hand on his knee and told him he would “go far in the party” at a party conference event last year. Mr Pincher’s lawyers told the newspaper he firmly denies the allegation, which mirrors a complaint which led to the MP’s resignation from the whips office for the first time, in 2017.
Former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story alleged Mr Pincher touched him while making an unwanted pass and using similar language. Mr Pincher was reinstated two months later as a senior whip by Theresa May after having referred himself to both the police and the Conservative Party complaints procedure.
Downing Street appeared to acknowledge that there had been concerns when he was appointed in February to the whips’ office, with responsibility for discipline over Tory MPs.
However, a No 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister had not been made aware of anything that would have prevented the appointment going ahead.
“In the absence of any formal complaints, it was not appropriate to stop an appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations,” the spokesman said.
Tory Andrew Bridgen suggested Downing Street was guilty of “double standards” in the difference in the handling of the “arch loyalist” and Neil Parish, the Conservative who was forced to stand down as an MP after admitting watching pornography in the Commons.
Mr Bridgen said No 10’s action had been insufficient, telling BBC Newsnight: “For those who wish to maintain confidence in the Prime Minister or even regain it it has been a particularly bad day.
“Neil was a very independent-minded Conservative backbencher, he never really sought patronage and he did hold ministers to account. Chris Pincher is seen as an arch-loyalist and I think that, to most people, will be the reason for the difference in their treatment. And that’s not tenable either.”
The backbencher said allegations about Mr Pincher had been “swirling around Westminster for years” and would likely have been known by the whips’ office, which he described as the “eyes and ears” of No 10.
Caroline Nokes and Karen Bradley, two senior Tory MPs who chair Commons select committees, called for Mr Johnson to implement a “zero tolerance” policy over sexual misconduct claims.
Mr Pincher was brought in alongside chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris, another trusted ally, to shore up support for the Prime Minister amid growing unrest among Tory MPs over the disclosures about lockdown parties in Downing Street.
But he was now being replaced by former housing minister Kelly Tolhurst, the MP for Rochester and Strood. The latest allegations came after the Conservative Party was hit by a series of scandals relating to sexual misconduct.
In May, Mr Parish quit as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after admitting viewing pornography in the Commons chamber, while the previous month Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for 18 months for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
In both cases the Conservatives lost the ensuing by-elections.
A third unnamed Conservative MP has been told by the whips to stay away from Parliament after he was arrested on suspicion of rape and other offences.
In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Pincher apologised for his behaviour. “Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people which is the last thing I want to do and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned,” he said.
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