Boris Johnson has come under increasing pressure to explain why he appointed to the government an MP who had been linked with repeated allegations of inappropriate behavior.
Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday evening and was suspended from the party on Friday after allegations that he had groped two men at the Carlton Club in London.
Downing Street said the prime minister considered the matter closed after the resignation, but hours later Pincher had the Conservative whip removed after he was reported to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme.
Pressure on Pincher to step down as an MP mounted on Sunday as claims stretching back more than a decade were made in the Mail on Sunday, Sunday Times and Independent newspapers.
These included three cases where it is alleged he made unwanted advances to male MPs.
No official complaints were made and Pincher denied the allegations to the newspapers. He has said he is seeking professional medical help and did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.
In 2017 Pincher stood down from a more junior whip role after being accused of making an unwanted pass at Alex Story, a Conservative activist and former Olympic rower. After a party investigation he was cleared of breaching its code of conduct.
Johnson appointed Pincher a junior foreign minister in 2019 and then a housing minister before making him deputy chief whip five months ago.
Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief of staff, said the prime minister knew about Pincher’s alleged behavior. “Why did he repeatedly refer to him laughingly in Number 10 as ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’ long before appointing him?” he said on Twitter.
Asked on Sunday whether the prime minister had been aware of allegations against Pincher before this week, work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey said: “I do not believe Boris Johnson was aware” of any particular incident. “That’s what I’ve been told today,” she added.
But the Sunday Times reported that in February one MP who had claimed to have received an unwanted pass from Pincher in 2018 – but did not complain at the time – alerted chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris and a Downing Street official to the incident. He voiced concerns that Pincher was about to be appointed to the job of deputy chief whip, in charge of the welfare and discipline of other MPs.
On Sunday evening Labor chair Anneliese Dodds wrote to Johnson to request “urgent answers” about whether he was aware of the complaints about Pincher before his appointment as deputy chief whip and why the prime minister did not believe the allegations warranted an investigation.
“Only Boris Johnson could have looked at this guy’s record and thought ‘he deserves a promotion’,” Dodds said.
The Pincher allegations come after months of revelations about bad behavior by Conservative MPs which go far beyond the scandals that dogged the last years of the premiership of Sir John Major in the 1990s.
One unnamed Tory MP was in May arrested on suspicion on rape and sexual assault. Charlie Elphicke, former Tory MP for Dover, was sentenced to two years in prison for sexual assault in July 2020.
Imran Ahmad Khan stepped down as Tory MP for Wakefield after being convicted of molesting a 15-year-old boy. David Warburton has been suspended from the party after sexual harassment allegations, which he denies.
The ICGS will review the complaints against Pincher and may refer them to the so-called independent expert panel, which has the power to impose sanctions on MPs such as suspension from the House of Commons.
Conservative Staffers for Change, a new campaign group, is due to meet Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle on Wednesday.
The group, led by two 22-year-old parliamentary aides, will present Hoyle with allegations of inappropriate behavior by various MPs ranging from bullying to sexual assault.
“Sexual abuse, harassment and bullying have started to become synonymous with politics,” they said. “Yet more allegations of illegal behavior are treated as mere gossip. . . in any other workplace, things would never have been allowed to get this bad. ”