Former top official says No. 10 not telling the truth over scandal hit MP

EuroActiv Politico News

LONDON — A former top U.K. official has accused Boris Johnson of not telling the truth when the prime minister said he was not aware of specific allegations about the behavior of an MP who he appointed to a key government job but later resigned following allegations he groped two men.

In a letter to the U.K. parliamentary commissioner for standards, which he posted on Twitter on Tuesday morning, the former chief diplomat Simon McDonald said that in 2019, a group of officials had complained about Chris Pincher’s behavior and an investigation had upheld the complaint. Pincher had apologized and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behavior.

“Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation,” McDonald wrote.

Pincher resigned last week over claims he groped two men, prompting questions about what the prime minister knew about his past behavior before he promoted him. McDonald’s letter puts more pressure on Johnson, whose leadership has been weakened following the so-called Partygate story and only narrowly survived a vote of confidence in his leadership by Tory MPs.

McDonald said he was speaking out because of Downing Street statements in recent days. A spokesman for the prime minister first claimed Johnson had not been aware of specific allegations when appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip in February, and later clarified the prime minister knew of allegations but that they were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.

“The original No. 10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate,” McDonald writes.

In a later interview with the BBC, McDonald said: “They need to come clean. I think that the language is ambiguous. It’s sort of telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time and hoping that people are not too forensic in their subsequent questioning.”

Also speaking to the BBC, then Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said everything had been “done by the book” and the 2019 allegation “didn’t trip the wire into disciplinary action.” Raab, who is now deputy prime minister, told the broadcaster he did not think it was “factually accurate” that the PM had been briefed.

“I have discussed this with the prime minister over the last 24 hours, it is not my understanding that he was directly briefed.”

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: “It is now clear that the prime minister knew about the seriousness of these complaints but decided to promote this man to a senior position in government anyway. He refused to act and then lied about what he knew.”