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PM under pressure to explain Chris Pincher appointment after 'groping' allegations
3 July 2022, 23:00 | Updated: 3 July 2022, 23:19
Boris Johnson is facing demands to set out what he knew about allegations of inappropriate behaviour centring on Chris Pincher before appointing him to the Tory whips' office.
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The Prime Minister is alleged to have referred to the MP as "Pincher by name, pincher by nature" before making him deputy chief whip in February.
The MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire resigned from the role after being accused of drunkenly groping two men in a private members' club in London.
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.
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.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain laid the blame for the "sleazy toxic Government" with Mr Johnson.
"He must now be forced to reveal what he knew before making the appointment," she added.
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.
A third unnamed Tory MP has been told by whips to stay away from Parliament after being arrested on suspicion of rape and other offences.
In a statement, Mr Pincher said he would "co-operate fully" with the investigation.
"As I told the Prime Minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others, and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused," he continued.
"The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support.
"I am in the process of seeking that now, and I hope to be able to return to my constituency duties as soon as possible."