PM was aware of concerns about Pincher's conduct 'over the years', Downing Street says

4 July 2022, 08:55 | Updated: 4 July 2022, 18:41

By Sophie Barnett

Downing Street has admitted Prime Minister Boris Johnson was aware of concerns about disgraced former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher's conduct 'over the years' before hiring him.

Chris 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.

Downing Street today insisted Mr Johnson was not aware of "specific accusations" against Mr Pincher but that he did know about "allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint".

The spokesperson said the reports came "over the years" and that "in the absence of any formal complaint it wasn’t deemed appropriate to stop the appointment because of any unsubstantiated allegations."

Read more: PM under pressure to explain Chris Pincher appointment after 'groping' allegations

Deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Daisy Cooper this evening told LBC it was "truly shocking" that Mr Johnson was aware of any allegations of inappropriate conduct by Mr Pincher before appointing him deputy chief whip.

She said: "The prime minister, I believe, lost the trust of the British public a very long time ago."

"It's why the Liberal Democrats have been calling on the prime minister to do the decent thing and resign for months and months and months.

"We'll have to wait and see what his Conservative back benchers do and whether they want to try and get rid of the prime minister later this year."

Asked whether there was a problem with Westminster's culture, she said: "People worry about this power dynamic that exists so clearly there has to be som reform. I think there needs to be better vetting within political parties."

It comes after a junior minister this morning told LBC he was given "categorical assurance" that the Prime Minister was not aware of "specific allegations" against the MP.

Downing Street also refused to deny claims he referred to the MP as "Pincher by name, pincher by nature" before making him deputy chief whip in February.

But MP Will Quince, asked by LBC's Tom Swarbrick if he could imagine Mr Johnson making the joke, said: "No, I can't Tom, and I think that quote came from Dominic Cummings, who is not someone who I give a huge amount of credibility to given past experience."

"All I know is this, I've been given a categorical assurance that the Prime Minister was not aware of any specific allegation or complaint," the minister for children and families added.

Pressed on whether he was happy with that assurance, Mr Quince replied: "Tom, I am."

He said he has been "shocked and appalled" by some of the allegations made against Mr Pincher but said it's important professional organisations don't act just on rumour or gossip.

"They have to act on allegations made, and that's formal complaints, and that's why it so important we create an environment where people feel they can come forward," he said.

"I think it's been painted that the deputy chief whip was appointed for the first time by Boris Johnson - he wasn't. He's been consistently a minister I think since 2017."

Read more: Tory whip quits post saying he 'drank too much' amid 'groping' allegations

He added: "Both last night and this morning I asked No10, both firmly and very clearly, a specific question around what the PM knew, and I have been given a categorical assurance that the PM was not aware of any specific allegation or complaint against the former deputy chief whip at the point of which he was appointed.

A stream of fresh allegations emerged over the weekend, as one Tory backbencher said claims about Mr Pincher had been "swirling around Westminster for years".

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds has written to the Prime Minister demanding to know what Downing Street knew of the allegations about his ally before his second appointment as a whip.

"Only Boris Johnson could have looked at this guy's record and thought 'he deserves a promotion'," she added in a statement.

"This Prime Minister is clearly happy to sweep sexual misconduct under the carpet in order to save his own skin."

She also questioned why the Tory whip was not suspended, meaning the MP now sits as an independent, until Friday when the incident took place at the Carlton Club on Wednesday.

A Downing Street source has argued that Mr Johnson took the move after speaking to a Tory MP who was with one of the men allegedly groped by Mr Pincher.

"The account given was sufficiently disturbing to make the PM feel more troubled by all this," the source told the PA news agency.

Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's former chief aide turned critic-in-chief, said Mr Johnson referred to the MP "laughingly in No 10 as 'Pincher by name, pincher by nature' long before appointing him".

Downing Street has not disputed that account, but Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey argued that Mr Johnson did not know "specific allegations" about the MP.

"I’ve been told today that the PM was not aware of specific allegations and those are now in the investigation process," she told LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday.

Under investigation by Parliament's Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, Mr Pincher said he is seeking "professional medical support" and hopes to return to represent his constituents "as soon as possible".

Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday alleged he threatened to report a parliamentary researcher to her boss after she tried to stop his "lecherous" advances to a young man at a Conservative Party conference.

The Sunday Times alleged he made unwanted passes at two Conservative MPs in 2017 and 2018 - after his first resignation as a whip.

A Tory MP told the Independent he was groped on two occasions by Mr Pincher, first in December 2021 and again last month.

In 2017, at the time a young Tory activist, Mr Story described Mr Pincher untucking the back of his shirt, massaging his neck and whispering "You'll go far in the Tory Party".

The new allegations reignited concerns about standards in Westminster after a string of Conservative MPs faced sexual misconduct claims.

In May, Neil Parish quit as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after admitting viewing pornography in the Commons chamber.

A month earlier, then-Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for 18 months for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.The Conservatives lost both by-elections that followed.