'It was the wrong thing to do': PM admits it was a 'mistake' to promote Pincher

5 July 2022, 13:17 | Updated: 5 July 2022, 19:01

Boris Johnson "forgot" he had been told about a 2019 complaint against Chris Pincher, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis has said.
Boris Johnson "forgot" he had been told about a 2019 complaint against Chris Pincher, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis has said. Picture: Alamy

By Lauren Lewis

Boris Johnson has admitted it was "the wrong thing to do" to appoint disgraced former deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher and apologised for the mistake.

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The prime minister said "in hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do" and apologised "to everybody who has been badly affected by it."

He said: "I want to make absolutely clear that there's no place in this Government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power."

Speaking to reporters in his Commons office he did not deny joking: "Pincher by name, Pincher by nature".

He said: "What I can tell you is that, if I look at the background of this and why I regret it so much, is that about three years ago there was a complaint made against Chris Pincher in the Foreign Office, the complaint was cleared up, he apologised.

"It was raised with me, orally, I was briefed on what had happened. If I had my time again I would think back on it and recognise that he wasn't going to learn a lesson and he wasn't going to change and I regret that."

It comes after Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told LBC today that Mr Johnson had "forgotten" that he had been told about a 2019 complaint against Chris Pincher.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid this evening resigned over the scandal, telling the prime minister "you have lost my confidence".

Mr Ellis, speaking in the House of Commons today, said Boris Johnson "did not immediately recall" being told about allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Chris Pincher.

He said: "The Prime Minister was made aware of this issue in late 2019, he was told that the permanent secretary had taken the necessary action, no issue therefore arose about remaining as a minister.

"Last week when fresh allegations arose, the Prime Minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about this incident. As soon as he was reminded, the No 10 press office corrected their public lines.

"So, the position is quite clear. Further enquiries will be made but the position is the Prime Minister acted with probity at all times."

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.

It was the second time he resigned from the whips' office after Conservative candidate Alex Story accused him of making an inappropriate advance in 2017.

'Very thin defence indeed!' 

Read more: Harry Dunn's 'killer' fled as Pincher 'distracted' by misconduct probe, Labour MP suggests

The Prime Minister's official spokesman followed up, saying: "At the time last week that was the Prime Minister's view. You will appreciate it takes some time to establish he was briefed, albeit we don't think in formal briefing on this.

"This dates back a number of years. On Friday, it was our belief that he was not informed about that specific incident."

The spokesman said that he had updated reporters on Monday after more information became available but had not at that point been able to refer to the complaint at the Foreign Office.

"The Prime Minister at the time when he offered the job was not aware of any new specific allegations that were being looked at," the spokesman said.

"As I clarified yesterday, he was aware of both media speculation and an allegation that was resolved. That was the fullest picture we had yesterday which we sought to set out. This information does take time to establish.

"It was not raised as a disciplinary issue or anything related to the Ministerial Code and the Prime Minister was informed but not asked to take any action."

Read more: Civil servant urges colleagues to quit over PM's 'lies' in 'most remarkable' call

Asked whether he regretted that the public felt they had been misled over the Chris Pincher row, the Prime Minister's official spokesman: "I appreciate that given the allegations here we have a duty to be very clear on this.

"These issues are rightly scrutinised, including on the timeline.

"For my part, we are simply seeking to establish as accurate information as we can and provide it."

Pressed on whether there was now an issue of trust around official statements from No 10, the spokesman told reporters: "That is obviously a judgment for you all to make."

Mr Ellis, responding to an urgent question from Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner, had said he had made some initial enquiries and said he understood in October 2019 officials "raised concerns" with the permanent secretary concerning Chris Pincher.

He told MPs: "The permanent secretary commissioned work to establish facts, that was undertaken on his behalf by the Cabinet Office, this exercise reported in due course to the then permanent secretary who had agreed its terms.

"The exercise established that while the minister meant no harm, what had occurred had caused a high level of discomfort. This is what the exercise established. The minister apologised and those raising the concern accepted the resolution."

Michael Ellis speaking in the Commons
Michael Ellis speaking in the Commons. Picture: Alamy
Angela Rayner in the Commons
Angela Rayner in the Commons. Picture: Alamy
Chris Pincher
Chris Pincher. Picture: Alamy

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Ms Rayner earlier said the "latest disturbing allegations about ministerial misconduct are all about abuse of power", adding in the Commons: "The minister spoke about personal responsibility - well, the minister needs to remind the Prime Minister of his personal responsibility."

Ms Rayner called into question Mr Johnson's recollection of events before telling Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis: "Since the resignation of yet another of the Prime Minister's ethics advisers last month, there has been an even bigger ethical vacuum in Downing Street with no accountability in place."

Ms Rayner added: "The Prime Minister was personally informed about these allegations and yet he was either negligent or complicit."

The Labour MP went on: "When will this minister stop defending the indefensible and say enough is enough?

Labour MP Luke Pollard warned in some cases the "very highest people" have sought to "protect" others by "forgetting that things have happened".

Mr Ellis claimed there is "no such culture" in Parliament before encouraging any victims of abuse to come forward.S

peaking in the Commons, Mr Pollard said: "There's a real concern amongst staff, Members of Parliament here, about a culture within Westminster that protects abusers, that doesn't encourage victims to come forward.

"What we're seeing here is potentially the start of an unlocking of a type of abuse that has been common in Westminster for far too long of men abusing other men, particularly young men.

"That is a scandal which will run for miles and miles because it has been overlooked, deliberately hidden and those behind it have, in some cases, had the very highest people protect them through forgetting that things have happened.

"Will the minister give us assurance now that he will treat a sexual abuse attack on a man in the same way as it would be on a woman, and make very clear that there should not be a single Member of Parliament in this place in any party that is guilty of that?"

Mr Ellis replied: "He's completely wrong. There is no such culture either in this legislature or in the executive.

"The fact of the matter is I have already said from this despatch box that any victim should come forward for any incident, at any time and make themselves known and make their complaints.

"All are treated equally and will be treated equally."