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Tamworth on by-election alert as ‘Pincher by name…’ loses suspension appeal

Boris Johnson and Chris Pincher: a poor choice of friends?

A former Tory whip who used to shout abuse at Jeremy Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions has lost an appeal against suspension after he groped two other men – putting his constituency on by-election alert.

Chris Pincher is the MP who cost Boris Johnson his job as Prime Minister.

Initially, he was best-known as the one who hid behind other Tories in order to shout abuse at then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions:

But on July 1, 2022, he resigned as a Tory whip after it was alleged that he groped two other men at the private Carlton Club.

In his resignation letter to Johnson, he said he “drank far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people”.

But the apparent double sexual assault was not investigated by the Conservative Party, nor were the police, apparently, contacted.

New claims against Pincher stacked up in the following days. The BBC listed them in the following way:

The Sunday Times reported Mr Pincher had placed his hand on the inner leg of a male Tory MP in a bar in Parliament in 2017.

The newspaper reported Mr Pincher also made unwanted advances towards a different male Tory MP in 2018 while in his parliamentary office, and towards a Tory activist in Tamworth around July 2019.

The Mail on Sunday carried allegations he had made advances against an individual a decade ago, and that a female Tory staffer had tried to prevent his advances towards a young man at a Conservative Party conference.

The Independent carried allegations from an unnamed male Conservative MP that Mr Pincher groped him on two separate occasions in December 2021 and June this year.

The Sunday Times reported that the MP involved in the alleged incident in 2018 contacted No 10 before Mr Pincher was made a whip in February, passing on details of what he said had happened to him and voicing his concerns about him being appointed to the role.

Former Johnson aide Dominic Cummings was said to have claimed that the then-prime minister referred to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”. But Johnson himself was said to have considered the matter closed after Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip.

This raised concerns about unequal treatment of MPs who are accused of inappropriate behaviour (or, in this case, sexual crimes). Pincher was subsequently reported to Parliament’s independent behaviour watchdog and an inquiry began.

The controversy – and Boris Johnson’s failure to act in a timely way – led to renewed speculation over his fitness to continue as the UK’s political leader. This intensified after it was stated that he had indeed known of Pincher’s behaviour before appointing him to the Tory whips’ office:

The revelation came from the BBC:

Boris Johnson was made aware of a formal complaint about Chris Pincher’s “inappropriate behaviour” while Mr Pincher was a Foreign Office minister from 2019-20, BBC News can reveal.

It triggered a disciplinary process that confirmed the MP’s misconduct. Mr Pincher apologised after the process concluded, BBC News has been told.

BBC News understands the PM and the foreign secretary at the time – Dominic Raab – knew about the issue.

The Prime Minister’s office claimed that “no official complaints [about Pincher] were ever made”.

McDonald of Salford, a crossbench peer who was formerly (as Simon McDonald) Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, blew that – and subsequent li(n)es out of the water.

In a letter to Kathryn Stone, then-Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, he stated: “This is not true. In the summer of 2019, shortly after he was appointed minister of state at the Foreign Office, a group of officials complained to me about Mr Pincher’s behaviour. I discussed the matter with the relevant official at the Cabinet Office. (In substance, the allegations were similar to those made about his behaviour at the Carlton Club.) An investigation upheld the complaint; Mr Pincher apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour. There was no repetition at the FCO before he left seven months later.”

The letter added that a BBC website report stated: “Downing Street has said Boris Johnson was not aware of any specific allegations when he appointed Mr Pincher deputy chief whip in February,” then added: “By 4 July, the BBC website reflected a change in No 10’s line: ‘The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson knew of “allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint”, adding that “it was deemed not appropriate to stop an appointment simply because of unsubstantiated allegations”.’

“The original No 10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate. Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation. There was a ‘formal complaint’. Allegations were ‘resolved’ only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr Pincher was not exonerated. To characterise the allegations as ‘unsubstantiated’ is therefore wrong.

“I am aware that [it] is unusual to write to you and simultaneously publicise the letter. I am conscious of the duty owed to the target of an investigation but I act out of my duty towards the victims. Mr Pincher deceived me and others in 2019. He cannot be allowed to use the confidentiality of the process three years ago to pursue his predatory behaviour in other contexts.”

He didn’t say Boris Johnson had been lying in his letter, but in a subsequent interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he might as well have: “I think they need to come clean. I think that the language is ambiguous, the 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 and I think that is not working.”

The peer’s revelations triggered a slew of new accusations against Boris Johnson and his administration.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “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.”

It became apparent that Downing Street had not even provided the government’s spokesperson-of-the-day with the facts, when Dominic Raab tried, on the Today programme, to push the line that Boris Johnson had not been briefed about disciplinary action against Pincher.

Himself a former foreign secretary, Raab said he had spoken with Johnson over the last 24 hours and had been assured that the prime minister had not been briefed.

Then Lord McDonald appeared on the same programme and categorically stated that Johnson had been told everything at the time.

So Raab’s story changed by the time he got to LBC radio: “There was a review, an investigation if you like … to decide whether a formal disciplinary action or an investigation and process was warranted.

“The review, conducted under the auspices of Sir Simon – now Lord – McDonald was that disciplinary action was not warranted. That doesn’t mean that inappropriate behaviour didn’t take place. We were clear that what happened was inappropriate, but we resolved it without going for a formal disciplinary process.”

Raab said he told Pincher “in no uncertain terms” that his conduct had been unacceptable.

So Raab was saying that the complaint against Pincher had been upheld, but that did not mean he was guilty – even though Raab himself had told the MP that his conduct had been unacceptable.

Does that make any sense to you?

It didn’t make sense to Susanna Reid on Good Morning Britain, who grilled Raab over his misuse of language:

It seems this cack-handed handling of a serious matter was the last straw for many backbench Tory MPs, who said Johnson had “learned nothing” from Partygate and “the same mistakes are again being made“.

They called for a change to the rules of the 1922 Committee to allow another confidence vote to take place against him.

Later that day – July 5 – Johnson’s Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, quit – along with several junior ministers who were Parliamentary aides to Cabinet ministers: Jonathan Gullis, Saqib Bhatti, Nicola Richards, and Virginia Crosbie.

Tory vice-chair Bim Afolami was also out – he quit on TalkTV’s The News Desk show:

Andrew Murrison resigned as Johnson’s trade emissary to Morocco, as did Theodora Clarke, trade emissary to Kenya.

Ms Clarke said in her resignation letter: “To learn that you chose to elevate a colleague to a position of pastoral care for MPs, whilst in full knowledge of his own wrongdoing, shows a severe lack of judgement and care for your Parliamentary party.

“I was shocked to see colleagues defending the Government with assurances that have turned out to be false. This is not the way that any responsible Government should act.”

Attorney General Alex Chalk threw in the towel late that evening. His resignation letter stated: “To be in government is to accept the duty to argue for difficult or even unpopular policy positions where that serves the broader national interest. But it cannot extend to defending the indefensible.

“The cumulative effect of the Owen Paterson debacle, Partygate and now the handling of the former Deputy Chief Whip’s resignation, is that public confidence in the ability of Number 10 to uphold the standards of candour expected of a British Government has irretrievably broken down. I regret that I share that judgement.”

Then came a flurry of resignations, intended to fit in before Prime Minister’s Questions.

First to go on the morning of July 6 was another Parliamentary Private Secretary, Laura Trott. Her resignation letter, posted on her Facebook account, said trust in politics was of the “upmost [sic] importance”, adding “but sadly in recent months this has been lost”.

Next was Children’s Minister Will Quince, who said he was left with “no choice” after 10 Downing Street sent him out to defend Johnson with “inaccurate” lines. He said: “I accepted and repeated assurances on Monday (July 4) to the media which have now been found to be inaccurate.”

In media interviews, Quince had said he had been given assurances that Johnson had not been aware of complaints against Chris Pincher. It later emerged this was not true.

Robin Walker, Minister for School Standards, quit saying the government has been “overshadowed by mistakes and questions about integrity”.

Lee Anderson, the Red Wall Tory who was ridiculed for saying it was possible to cook nutritious meals for 30p, quit at around 10.30am. On the Pinchergate lies, he stated: “I cannot look myself in the mirror and accept this… Integrity should always come first and sadly this has not been the case over the past few days.”

Also quitting were Treasury Minister John Glen and another PPS, Felicity Buchan.

Oh – and Justice Minister Victoria Atkins.

And key backbencher Robert Halfon also announced that he had lost confidence in Johnson. In a letter, he said he was “previously against any leadership change… during Covid, a cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine. However, after the events of the past few days and the resignation of Cabinet members, I feel that the public have been misled about the appointment of the former deputy chief whip [Chris Pincher].

“The parties at Number 10 Downing Street were bad enough but the appointment of this individual and the untruthful statement about what was known is unacceptable to me.”

Also withdrawing support were Chris Skidmore and Tom Hunt.

Later that day, “Levelling-Up” secretary Michael Gove publicly called for Boris Johnson to give up and go gracefully, and a delegation of Cabinet ministers attended 10 Downing Street to beg him to see sense. So Johnson sacked Gove.

This triggered a new wave of Cabinet resignations. Key among them was Michelle Donelan, who was only appointed as Education Secretary two days previously, after Nadhim Zahawi was promoted to become Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Zahawi himself appeared to have been moving to slip a knife into his boss’s back – because he was urging Johnson to quit by 8.45.

Also out was Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis, while the total number of resignations from the government climbed towards 50.

By lunchtime on July 7, Johnson finally gave in to the inevitable and resigned as prime minister.

All that, just because he could not admit making a bad decision about one of his MPs.

And now the MP who triggered Johnson’s downfall has lost his appeal against suspension.

The BBC is reporting:

Chris Pincher’s appeal against a proposed eight-week suspension from the House of Commons for groping two men at a London club last year has been rejected.

In its report, Parliament’s conduct watchdog said the former Conservative deputy chief whip’s behaviour amounted to an abuse of power.

The decision means a by-election in his Tamworth seat is a step closer.

MPs will now vote on whether to approve the eight-week punishment.

The move is normally a formality and, if approved, would trigger a recall petition which could lead to a by-election.

Parliament’s standards commissioner Daniel Greenberg found Mr Pincher groped a then-employee of the House of Lords on his arm and neck, before groping his bottom.

He also found he groped a civil servant’s bottom and then his testicles.

Pincher can take cold comfort in the fact that he managed to remain an MP longer than the prime minister whose poor judgement put him in a position of power over others.

After MPs approve the suspension, and if 10 per cent of voters in Tamworth sign a petition calling for one, there will be a by-election there.

Even though the Conservatives had a 19,000 majority in 2019, it seems unlikely that they will hold the seat – given the nature of Pincher’s conduct and the failure of the Tory government of which he was a member.

The big question is whether Keir Starmer’s party – the closest rival in 2019 – has the policies needed to take the constituency.

Or will another party, with a better reputation than either of the ‘Big Two’ rock up and take over instead?


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