LONDON — Downing Street was made aware of sexual misconduct allegations against a now-disgraced MP before appointing him to a key role in government, multiple people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.
Chris Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip late Thursday evening after the Sun newspaper alleged he had groped two men at a private members’ club. In a resignation letter to the PM, he admitted “drank far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people.”
A Downing Street official said Pincher was not expected to face further disciplinary action and would keep the party whip, allowing him to continue as a Conservative MP.
MPs and government aides revealed No. 10 had been aware of concerns about his behavior since the beginning of the year.
A group of Conservative MPs intervened in February, just as Johnson carried out a mini-reshuffle of his top team, in order to block Pincher getting the job of chief whip — a crucial role responsible for discipline and welfare in the party — according to two MPs and one government official.
“He [Pincher] was absolutely livid when he didn’t get made chief,” said one aide. “As soon as his name was in the running, people went into No. 10, including MPs, with new allegations about what he’d done.”
Yet Johnson still appointed the long-serving MP for Tamworth as deputy chief whip.
A No. 10 official said the appointment was only made after concerns about him had been raised with Steve Barclay, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff. The reports were examined by the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team, which concluded they should not bar him from the job.
Incredibly, the incident marks the second time Pincher has been forced to resign as a whip, after he was accused in 2017 of drunkenly making a pass at former Olympic rower Alex Story. Pincher referred himself to the police after the incident and was later cleared of wrongdoing by a Conservative Party investigation.
Pincher was instrumental in shoring up support for the PM last winter when the Partygate scandal was at its peak, and was effectively rewarded with the deputy chief whip’s job.
On Thursday, Downing Street said Pincher could remain as a Tory MP as he had “done the right thing” in resigning as deputy chief whip.
But Johnson is under pressure to take tougher action as his party struggles to draw a line under a series of recent sleaze scandals — including a serious conviction.
In April, Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old in 2008. Another MP, Neil Parish, stood down after admitting watching pornography in the House of Commons chamber.
An unnamed MP is currently under arrest on suspicion of rape, while David Warburton, the MP for Somerton and Frome has been suspended from the party pending the outcome of a probe into sexual harassment allegations.