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'You cannot judge on rumour': Jacob Rees-Mogg backs PM over Chris Pincher appointment
4 July 2022, 19:26 | Updated: 4 July 2022, 20:30
Jacob Rees-Mogg has backed the prime minister over the appointment of MP Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip despite allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
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The Minister for Brexit Opportunities and Government Efficiency told Tonight with Andrew Marr on LBC that "you cannot judge on rumour".
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.
But Mr Rees-Mogg said Mr Pincher "was never found guilty of any wrongdoing... nor was he found guilty by an inquiry" as he insisted "you cannot hold rumours against people."
Pressed on whether the persistent allegations of inappropriate behaviour should have stopped Mr Pincher being appointed deputy chief whip, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "There were rumours. I think prime ministers have to be just. They can't just say I've heard a bit of gossip and I think you've done something I wouldn't approve of."
"But then I may not be the best source of gossip," he said.
It comes after Downing Street today admitted Boris Johnson was aware of concerns about Mr Pincher's conduct "over the years" but that the prime minister's knowledge was limited to "allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint".
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Mr Rees-Mogg said he had never heard the nickname "Pincher by name, Pincher by nature", which Mr Johnson is alleged to have used in reference to the former deputy chief whip.
But asked if he thought the appointment was appropriate, Rees-Mogg said: "I think you should not judge people on rumour but that once things come to light it is quite proper that things are investigated. That's why when I was leader of the House I was involved in the ICGS.
"There is a proper complaints procedure that looks after people who have been affected by this, people who may have been subject to harassment tor bullying or in-proper practices in an employment relationship or a parliamentary relationship.
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"That process is, in my view, too slow, but it is there to give confidence to people they can make complaints against people in positions of authority.
"I want to see that process work, I think it's the best process we've got.
He added: "You cannot hold rumours against people. There are rumours in politics against all sorts of people. There are not rumours about all sorts of people who then turn out to leave parliament abruptly. You cannot judge on rumour. That is fundamentally unjust."
Asked about whether Mr Pincher should resign following the resignation of Neil Parrish after he was caught watching porn in the House of Commons in April, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "Neil is an example that I'd never heard any rumours about Neil ever doing anything wrong.
"He seemed to me to be a fundamentally decent person, and I still think that, even though I think what he did was appalling, it doesn't make him an evil man."
"That was a matter for Neil to take. Whether someone resigns his or her seat is something that they can't be forced to do by the Whips.
"The Whips, I'm glad to say, do not fire members of parliament, I have to say, I might have been fired for completely different reasons if that had been in the power of the Whips."
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 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."