Tory party staff working in parliament have criticised Boris Johnson for a “failure to act” on claims of sexual misconduct, as the PM faces growing calls to explain what he knew about allegations against Chris Pincher.
Mr Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Friday following claims that he groped two men at the Tories’ Carlton Club. A series of new misconduct claims, denied by the MP, have since emerged.
Conservative Staffers for Change said they were “disappointed” at the failure to suspend Mr Pincher earlier, and said the PM had “serious questions” to answer about what he knew of the MP’s alleged behaviour.
A spokesman for the staff members, a group of young people working for MPs, told The Times that the allegations “come as no surprise” since claims made about Mr Pincher’s behaviour were “an open secret” in Westminster.
“Having raised concerns about sexual misconduct with the chief whip, we are disappointed not only by how long it took to remove the whip from Pincher, but also at the continued lack of clarity about what the PM knew,” the spokesman added.
“We wrote the letter to the PM raising concerns about illegal sexual misconduct in May yet received no response. This is not simply about the culture in Westminster, it is about the PM’s failure to act.”
In May, Conservative Staffers for Change wrote open letters to Mr Johnson and then-chairman Oliver Dowden, urging them to address “the toleration and acceptance of abuse [in parliament]”.
Although the group received a response from Mr Dowden, Mr Johnson did not reply.
Mr Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Friday following claims that he groped two men at the Tories’ Carlton Club on Wednesday. He admitted that he had “embarrassed myself and other people” while being drunk, but denies sexual harassment allegations.
Mr Johnson is now facing growing demands to set out what he knew about allegations of inappropriate behaviour centring on Mr Pincher before appointing him to the Tory whips’ office in February.
Former No 10 strategist Dominic Cummings has claimed that Mr Johnson referred to the MP as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” before making him deputy chief whip.
Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds has written to Mr Johnson demanding to know what No 10 knew about Mr Pincher prior to the appointment.
“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.”
Labour peer Baroness Jenny Chapman, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “I don’t think anybody in Westminster believes that Boris Johnson did not know about the allegations about Mr Pincher.”
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.”
One Tory MP, who claims to have been the subject of an unwanted advance by Mr Pincher, is thought to have warned the whips’ office against the appointed in February.
Two other MPs also raised the alarm with senior figures, according to The Guardian, with one saying: “Pincher should not be anywhere near the whips office.”
Meanwhile, in a new claim, a man told The Sun that Mr Pincher said “inappropriate things” before touching the top of his thigh in a meeting in the MP’s constituency office in 2018.
It follows a series of allegations over the weekend. A Tory MP told The Independent he was groped on two occasions by Mr Pincher, first in December 2021 and again last month.
Mr Pincher denies all such allegations.
Under investigation by Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, Mr Pincher said in a statement on Saturday that he is seeking “professional medical support” and hopes to return to represent his constituents “as soon as possible”.
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 said.
Junior minister Will Quince defended Mr Johnson over the deepening row. “I have been given categorical assurance that the prime minister was not aware of any serious specific allegation,” he told Sky News on Monday.
Mr Quince said that he cannot imagine the PM would refer to the MP as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” before appointing him in February. “I think that quote came from Dominic Cummings, who’s not someone who I give a huge amount of credibility to,” he told LBC.
There are suggestions that the PM’s handling of Mr Pincher will embolden Tory rebels’ attempts to change the rules of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers so they can hold another no confidence vote within the next year.
Critics of the PM told The Times his handling of the scandal “had sharpened minds to act”. They are said to considering a compromise change would mean a second confidence vote could be held immediately if 25 per cent of Tories in the Commons – 90 MPs – submit letters to the 1922 leadership.
Sources close to three Cabinet ministers say they are dismayed at having to publicly answer questions about what Mr Johnson knew of claims, according to The Telegraph.