Boris Johnson admitted “it was a mistake” to give scandal-hit former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher a role in government and said: “I apologise for it.”
His remarks come amid mounting Tory anger after No 10 confirmed the prime minister was briefed on complaints relating to Mr Pincher in 2019 while he was serving as a minister at the Foreign Office.
The cabinet office minister Michael Ellis told MPs that Mr Johnson did not “immediately recall” the exchange when fresh allegations emerged about Mr Pincher’s conduct last week at the Carlton Club.
But just moments after Mr Johnson’s first public remarks on the issue, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, resigned from the government, saying the prime minister had lost his confidence.
In letter to the prime minister, Mr Javid said that following last month’s vote of confidence “it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership” in an explosive intervention.
Speaking to the BBC on Tuesday evening, the prime minister, however, denied lying to aides about his knowledge of allegations against Mr Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip last week.
No 10 spokespeople and ministers have given a series of differing explanations about what Mr Johnson’s knowledge of the situation had been.
Asked if he lied to them, Mr Johnson said: “No and let me explain what happened. We are talking about a series of appointments over seven years.
“Chris Pincher came into government as deputy chief whip before I became Prime Minister, he was move to the Foreign Office, he then went on to be a minister for housing and we then moved him back to be deputy chief whip.
“About two and a half years ago I got this complaint, it was something that was only raised with me very cursorily but I wish that we had, I in particular, had acted on it and that he had not continued in government because he then went on, I’m afraid, to behave, as far as we can see, according to the allegations that we have, very, very badly.
“I’m sorry for those who have been badly affected by it.”