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Boris Johnson gave job to ‘grope’ MP despite doubts over behaviour

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UK prime minister Boris Johnson chats with prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern at Downing Street yesterday. Photo: John Sibley/PA Wire

UK prime minister Boris Johnson chats with prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern at Downing Street yesterday. Photo: John Sibley/PA Wire

UK prime minister Boris Johnson chats with prime minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern at Downing Street yesterday. Photo: John Sibley/PA Wire

Boris Johnson was embroiled in yet another sleaze scandal last night after it emerged he had appointed Tory MP Chris Pincher to a key government role despite being aware of doubts over Mr Pincher’s conduct.

The MP was stripped of the Conservative whip after a formal complaint about his alleged drunken groping of two men in a private members’ club earlier this week.

But Tory MPs were furious that the prime minister waited almost 24 hours before suspending Mr Pincher from the party, with one backbencher describing attempts to draw a line under the matter as “farcical”.

The whip was finally withdrawn yesterday afternoon after it was announced the case was being investigated by parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, launched in the wake of the ‘Pestminster’ scandal.

Mr Pincher resigned as the government’s deputy chief whip – a role that includes responsibilities for MPs’ welfare – late on Thursday, admitting that he had “drunk far too much [and] embarrassed myself” at the exclusive Carlton Club on London’s Piccadilly.

It was his second resignation over sexual misconduct allegations, after he stepped down as a whip in 2017 having been accused of making an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower Alex Story. On that occasion, a Conservative inquiry cleared him of breaching the party’s code of conduct. But MPs said that stories continued to swirl around Westminster about excessive use of alcohol and inappropriate behaviour.

Downing Street insisted yesterday that Mr Johnson had not been aware of “any specific allegations” relating to the 52-year-old MP in February, when he promoted him to the position of deputy chief whip. But a No 10 spokesperson had to correct themselves after initially saying Mr Johnson had not known about “any allegations”, in a clear indication that general concerns about Mr Pincher had been raised.

Vetting was carried out by the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team – as occurs for all new appointments – but the spokesperson said: “In the absence of any formal complaint, it was not appropriate to stop the appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.”

A close ally of the prime minister, Mr Pincher was promoted from housing minister shortly after playing a prominent role in the “Operation Save Big Dog” drive to see off threats to Mr Johnson’s leadership.

One Tory MP said: “It’s a total mess.

“It seems that these issues were flagged at the time of the appointment. If the PM wants to claim that he didn’t know, I’m not sure that that is very credible.”

And a former minister said that the appointment had raised eyebrows on the Conservative benches because it was known that Mr Pincher had “previous”. “A lot of us were surprised when he was appointed to the role,” said the ex-minister. “It was always a pretty chancy appointment, because everyone knew he has a fondness for alcohol.”

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The failure to withdraw the whip immediately, as happened in earlier sexual misconduct scandals like that involving Rob Roberts, “does seem to me to suggest Chris was being treated differently”, he added.

Neil Parish, who quit as a Tory MP after admitting watching pornography in the Commons chamber, said that he was “very upset” that double standards were being applied. Speaking ahead of Mr Pincher’s suspension, he said: “He may be deputy chief whip, he may have even been the man who removed the whip from me, so come on, let’s be fair.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said that Mr Johnson had to be “dragged kicking and screaming into taking any action at all”. “He just can’t be trusted to do the right thing,” she said. “This whole scandal is yet more evidence of his appalling judgement. It’s time for Conservative MPs to show this chaotic prime minister the door before he can do any more damage.”


 


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