Senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes has claimed that Chris Pincher was “drunk” at work in the afternoon before he is alleged to have groped two men at a private members’ club, saying she reported the incident but “nothing” happened.
Ms Nokes, chair of the women and equalities committee and MP for Romsey and Southampton North, made the claim last night as Boris Johnson came under renewed pressure over his decision to appoint Mr Pincher as deputy chief whip despite concerns about his conduct.
Mr Pincher, the MP for Tamworth, was forced to resign on Thursday after being accused of drunkenly groping two men at the Carlton club in central London the previous night, which he denies.
In an interview with Talk TV’s The News Desk, Ms Nokes said that she had heard “rumours” about Mr Pincher and “had experience of my own” last week “when I encountered Chris who’d had too much to drink on the Tuesday afternoon”.
“I was having a meeting with a senior member of the party and Chris came into the meeting and I could smell alcohol on him,” Ms Nokes said. When asked what happened when she reported the incident, Ms Nokes replied: “Nothing.”
“And that’s the stark reality – I was having a meeting with a very senior colleague about welfare issues in parliament and apparently nothing happened,” Ms Nokes added.
The former Home Office minister also criticised the “excessive drinking culture” at Westminster and the Tory whips’ office for what she said was a failure to “sort out” the behaviour of Mr Pincher.
Mr Pincher and No 10 did not immediately respond to The Independent’s request for comment on the claims by Ms Nokes.
Downing Street initially said that the prime minister was not aware of any specific allegations against Mr Pincher before he was promoted to whips office – responsible for party discipline and MPs’ welfare – in February.
On Tuesday morning, No 10 continued to face questions about Mr Johnson’s judgement in making the appointment after The Independent revealed that the PM was given a “first-hand account” of inappropriate sexual behaviour by Mr Pincher before his appointment.
Downing Street has now admitted that Mr Johnson knew a misconduct complaint was upheld when he promoted him.
Dominic Raab, out on the broadcast round on Tuesday morning, defended Mr Johnson’s handling of the complaint made against Mr Pincher. He told Times Radio that a complaint was made in October 2019 and he raised it with officials at the Foreign Office before referring it to the Cabinet Office’s ethics and propriety team.
“I also spoke to Chris Pincher to make sure the behaviour was not repeated,” he said. “
I also, for assurance and to make sure we had taken the most rigorous approach, referred the matter to the Cabinet Office ethics and propriety team who looked at it and they confirmed there wasn’t a case for proceeding under the Ministerial Code. We followed the processes – I did – to the letter, in fact beyond what was recommended.”
It comes after Lord McDonald of Salford, the ex-permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, wrote a formal letter of complaint to the parliamentary standards commissioner to say: “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.”
After the retired mandarin took the highly unusual step of submitting a formal complaint, Labour claimed it was clear the PM had “lied”.
“Boris Johnson’s desperate attempts to cover up what he knew about sexual assault complaints against Chris Pincher before appointing him have been blown out the water,” deputy leader Angela Rayner said in a statement.
“It is now clear that 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.”
She added: “Boris Johnson is dragging British democracy through the muck. His appalling judgment has made Westminster a less safe place to work.”