Boris Johnson “was aware” of previous allegations of sexual misconduct against Chris Pincher when he promoted him this year, No 10 has admitted.
The prime minister’s spokesman also did not deny he used the phrase “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” against the former deputy chief whip – who quit and is now being investigated for alleged groping.
Last week, No 10 insisted Mr Johnson was unaware of any specific allegations against the MP – but its story has shifted, deepening the latest scandal to engulf Mr Johnson.
The spokesman acknowledged he “was aware of media reports” and of “allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint”, when Mr Pincher was appointed in February.
However, he continued to insist that – in the absence of any formal complaint against him – it would not have been “appropriate” to block promotion to a role with responsibility for MPs’ welfare.
The spokesman was also unable to say what efforts were made to establish if allegations could be substantiated – and indicated Mr Pincher was not asked about them directly.
He also said No 10 has no plan to investigate the process that led to his appointment, amid reports that Downing Street was specifically warned against it.
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide, has alleged that the prime minister referred to the former deputy chief whip as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” long before the appointment in February.
But the spokesman said: “I’m simply not going to comment on content of what was or wasn’t said in private conversations” – revealing he had not asked Mr Johnson if the claim is true.
Mr Pincher was stripped of the Conservative whip after he was accused of drunkenly groping two men at a Conservative private members’ club in London, last Wednesday.
But he remains under pressure to resign as an MP – and is facing the possibility of a police investigation, after several alleged victims of previous assaults came forward.
An investigation is underway by parliament’s independent complaints service, which No 10 should proceed rather than any inquiry by Downing Street into warnings apparently not heeded.
Asked what advice was sought about the swirling allegations, the spokesman said it would have come from both political colleagues and the civil service.
“It was deemed not appropriate to stop an appointment simply because of unsubstantiated allegations,” he said.
The spokesman said: “The prime minister was aware of media reports that others had seen over the years and some allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
Asked if he regretted appointing Mr Pincher, he said only: “Clearly, we wouldn’t want anyone working in the government to behave in the manner as he is alleged to have done so. That is not the behaviour that you’d want to see in any walk of life.”