Boris given 'first-hand account' of allegations against Pincher before his promotion

5 July 2022, 00:53

Boris Johnson is believed to have been given a "first-hand account" of allegations against MP Chris Pincher
Boris Johnson is believed to have been given a "first-hand account" of allegations against MP Chris Pincher. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Boris Johnson was given a "first-hand account" of allegations against MP Chris Pincher before his promotion to deputy chief whip.

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The PM was told about specific claims against Mr Pincher on at least two occasions, it is understood.

The first conversation, which alleged "inappropriate sexual touching" by Mr Pincher, took place in early February, shortly before his formal appointment on 8 February, a senior Downing Street source told the Independent.

His alleged misconduct was raised again in May when reports emerged of inappropriate behaviour of an unnamed MP, which was later revealed to be the former deputy chief whip.

Asked about Mr Pincher's conduct, the staffer said: "The Prime Minister was made directly aware of a first hand account of inappropriate sexual touching. He was told in early February and also in May."

No10 refused to provide the paper with a comment on both alleged conversations but confirmed on Monday that Mr Johnson knew of concerns about Mr Pincher's conduct when he made him deputy chief whip.

Mr Pincher dramatically quit his role last week after he was accused of drunkenly groping two men at a private Conservative members' club in London.

The Tory whip was only removed from him on Friday afternoon.

He had previously resigned from the whips' office in 2017 over claims he made unwanted advances to a young activist, but was later reinstated after being cleared by an internal Conservative Party investigation.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said while he knew of claims that were "either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint", it was not considered appropriate to block the appointment based on "unsubstantiated allegations".

"There was no formal complaint at that time," he said.

Read more: PM was aware of concerns about Pincher's conduct 'over the years', Downing Street says

Read more: 'You cannot judge on rumour': Jacob Rees-Mogg backs PM over Chris Pincher appointment

However, the BBC later reported that Mr Johnson was made aware of a formal complaint about Mr Pincher's "inappropriate behaviour" while the MP was a minister in the Foreign Office from 2019-20.

The broadcaster said then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab was also aware of this complaint, which triggered a disciplinary process overseen by the Cabinet Office that confirmed misconduct by Mr Pincher.

A Government spokesperson said: "There are robust procedures in place for any members of staff to raise allegations of misconduct. It is long-standing policy not to comment on any matters involving individual cases."

Mr Pincher has been approached for comment.

It comes after Jacob Rees-Mogg backed the Prime Minister over the appointment of Mr Pincher on LBC's Tonight with Andrew Marr.

Mr Rees-Mogg told Andrew that Mr Pincher "was never found guilty of any wrongdoing... nor was he found guilty by an inquiry".

He insisted: "You cannot hold rumours against people."

Pressed on whether the persistent allegations of inappropriate behaviour should have stopped Mr Pincher being appointed deputy chief whip, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "There were rumours. I think prime ministers have to be just. They can't just say I've heard a bit of gossip and I think you've done something I wouldn't approve of."

"But then I may not be the best source of gossip," he said.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the appointment of Chris Pincher as Tory deputy chief whip was another example of poor judgment by Mr Johnson.

"I have got no sympathy with a Prime Minister who repeatedly makes bad judgment calls," he told Sky News.

"We have been living with a version of this story for month after month after month. Bad judgment by a man who puts himself above everything. I don't have any sympathy for him."

The Prime Minister's spokesman said the alleged behaviour by Mr Pincher fell "well below" the standards expected in Government.

"The Prime Minister will always seek to appoint the most appropriate people to the role. Clearly he must balance someone's skills and experience against things like allegations in some instances and unsubstantiated rumours," the spokesman said.

"Clearly we wouldn't want or expect to see anyone working in Government behave in the manners alleged. Any sexual harassment is well below what we would expect to see."

Mr Pincher faces an investigation by Parliament's Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme after one of the men he allegedly groped last week at the Carlton Club submitted a formal complaint.

In a statement at the weekend, the Tamworth MP - who now sits as an independent - said he would co-operate fully with the inquiry.

"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," he said.

"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."