Boris Johnson’s government once again finds itself mired in scandal in the wake of the resignation of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher last week after he allegedly groped two colleagues at a social event while drunk.
The 52-year-old MP, who has represented Tamworth in Staffordshire since 2010, was the subject of two complaints over his conduct at a 30th anniversary reception for the Conservative Friends of Cyprus at the Carlton Club, a historic private member’s establishment in London’s Piccadilly, situated close to the Ritz.
Describing the event – which reportedly saw an estimated 100 guests crowd into the venue’s Churchill Room to hear an address by Tory MP Theresa Villiers – The Daily Mail quotes an anonymous senior parliamentarian who said they saw Mr Pincher later that evening “soporific from alcohol, staggering around the bar”.
“He was lurching towards men and drunkenly propositioning them,” the politician said.
“He was up to all sorts, and so drunk that it looked like he was about to fall down and break something, or someone. It was embarrassing to watch, actually, and completely out of order.”
Mr Pincher was later “frogmarched to the door and poured into a black cab,” the source alleged. “The guy was so drunk that he could barely speak and was unable to tell the driver where he lived. We had to look it up for him. That was how bad it was.”
Chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris is understood to have investigated the complaints the following morning and informed Mr Pincher of the allegations against him, at which point the latter tendered his resignation from the Whip’s Office to the prime minister, apologising for his actions and explaining that he had “drunk far too much” and had “embarrassed myself and other people”.
On Friday, he eventually had the whip removed, his suspension from the party set to remain in place until Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Service completes its investigation.
Mr Pincher then issued a further statement expressing his intention to stay on as an MP and pledging to seek medical support to address his behaviour.
But over the weekend, a string of further sexual harassment allegations emerged, as did suggestions that Mr Pincher had acquired a degree of notoriety among his colleagues, as well as a string of unflattering nicknames punning on his surname.
The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Pincher had threatened to report a parliamentary researcher to her boss after she tried to stop his “lecherous” advances towards a young man at a Conservative Party Conference. MeanwhileThe Sunday Times alleged he made unwanted passes at two Conservative MPs in 2017 and 2018 and had done the same towards a Tory activist in Tamworth in 2019.
The Independent spoke to a Conservative MP who said he had twice suffered unwanted overtures from Mr Pincher, first in December 2021 and again in June.
“He put his hand on my crotch and moved it around,” the MP said. “I shook my head and said no, I don’t want that, but he [Mr Pincher] just smiled… he carried on until I was able to move away.”
Politico meanwhile reported that he had been assigned an informal “minder” to look after him at social events to prevent him acting untowardly.
Mr Pincher has denied all the new allegations against him.
But the Carlton Club affair was already the second time he had been forced to quit the Whip’s Office over accusations about his behaviour, having previously stepped down as a junior whip in November 2017 over complaints made against him by former Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop and by ex-Olympic rower turned Conservative candidate Alex Story.
The latter, who has since left politics, described Mr Pincher as “a pound shop Harvey Weinstein” in an article for The Mail on Sunday in which he alleged that Mr Pincher had invited him to dinner one evening in 2001, taken him to his flat instead, plied him with whiskey, changed into a bathrobe and massaged his neck before Mr Story objected and left.
Mr Pincher denied the claims but referred himself to both the police and the Conservative Party complaints procedure and was cleared and eventually brought back as deputy chief whip by then-PM Theresa May in January 2018.
He left that role in July 2019 after Mr Johnson succeeded Ms May and appointed him as his new minister of state for Europe and the Americas.
Mr Pincher was moved again in February 2020 to be minister for housing before the PM reappointed him as deputy chief whip exactly two years later.
The present scandal has already evolved into questioning Mr Johnson’s judgement in appointing Mr Pincher in the first place given the accusations against him and in his reluctance to punish him further following his resignation, apparently in gratitude for his loyal support and his efforts to rehabilitate the PM’s public image in the wake of the “Partygate” scandal over lockdown rule-breaking.
Downing Street earlier insisted that Mr Johnson was not aware of “specific” allegations made against Mr Pincher and that it would not have been fair to deny him a key post “simply because of unsubstantiated allegations”.
But the prime minister’s spokesman has now said Mr Johnson was aware a complaint against Mr Pincher had been upheld.
It came as former civil servant Lord McDonald, who was permanent secretary to the Foreign Office when another claim was made against Mr Pincher and investigated in summer 2019, wrote to parliamentary standards commissioner Katherine Stone to inform her: “Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiative 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.”
Boris Johnson not aware of ‘any substantiated complaints’ against Chris Pincher, Dominic Raab says
He acknowledged that it was unusual for him to write to Ms Stone but said he felt he had a duty to do so and felt “deceived” by Mr Pincher over the incident, adding the observation that No 10 now “keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth”.
Sky News has meanwhile reported that the PM’s own wife, Carrie Johnson, openly questioned Mr Pincher’s suitability as a government whip as early as 2017.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Lord McDonald’s letter was proof that Mr Johnson had lied and accused the PM of “dragging British democracy through the muck” and making Westminster “a less safe place to work”.
Adding yet more fuel to the fire is Conservative MP Caroline Nokes’s revelation that she reported Mr Pincher for reportedly being “drunk in the afternoon” on 28 June — a day before the Carlton Club incident — and that “nothing happened”.
Mr Johnson now faces a new wave of anger from his fellow Tories in what is just the latest headache he has suffered after a miserable month.
June began with his being booed at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and only narrowly surviving a vote of confidence in the House of Commons, saw him criticised over the Home Office’s dubious Rwanda deportation policy and his plans to tear up the Brexit agreement’s Northern Ireland Protocol and culminated with a pair of spectacular Tory by-election defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton, held to replace two more MPs forced out in disgrace.
More than 1,000 parliamentary workers — representing two unions, FDA and Prospect — have now written to House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle urging Parliament to take action over the Chris Pincher case.