Male Conservatives do not have a particular problem with sexual harassment, cabinet minister Therese Coffey has said in the wake of the latest misconduct scandal engulfing the party.
Tory MP Chris Pincher – who quit deputy chief whip and was suspended by his party over allegations he groped two men in Westminster this week – faces a series a further claims of inappropriate behaviour.
Boris Johnson is also under growing pressure over his decision to give Mr Pincher a ministerial role amid claims the prime minister referred to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”.
Ms Coffey defended the PM and denied the Tories had a particular problem, despite being reminded that five Tory male MPs have been suspended or had to resign in the past year over sexual misconduct allegations.
Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday if there was problem with Conservative men, the work and pensions secretary sighed, before saying: “I don’t think that’s the case at all.”
She added: “I don’t know the situation and scenarios elsewhere. One MP, no longer an MP, Imran Khan has been convicted of something before he became a member of parliament. And other investigations are under way.”
Ms Coffey said she was not aware of any concerns about Mr Pincher’s behaviour, and said she had been told the prime minister did not know “specific allegations”.
Former adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed Mr Johnson had referred to the MP “laughingly in No 10 as ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’ long before appointing him”.
Downing Street did not deny that there had been concerns about Mr Pincher before his appointment as deputy chief whip in February, but insisted Mr Johnson “was not aware of any specific allegations”.
Asked if the PM knew about concerns over Mr Pincher, Ms Coffey said: “I’m not aware that [Mr Johnson] was made aware of specific claims. I don’t believe that he was aware – that’s what I’ve been told today.”
Grilled on the BBC Sunday Morning programme about who told her Mr Johnson did, Ms Coffey replied: “Somebody from the No 10 press office. One gets briefed on a wide variety of topics.”
Ms Coffey also said she “wished” people who work in parliament went to the police more often when coming forward with claims of sexual misconduct – but did not think it was necessary to close parliament’s bars or make any other “specific changes” to protect staff.
The PM’s decision to appoint Mr Pincher in February sparked the resignation of senior whip Craig Whittaker, according to the Sunday Telegraph.
A senior government source said: “He remonstrated over Pincher’s putative behaviour. He refused to serve. There was considerable ill feeling in the whips’ office about Pincher’s appointment.”
It come as one Conservative MP told The Independent he was groped on two occasions by Mr Pincher, who was suspended from the party on Friday after sexual misconduct allegations.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the man claims he was targeted twice by Mr Pincher, first in December 2021 and again last month.
The Mail on Sunday alleged he threatened to report a parliamentary researcher to her boss after she tried to stop his “lecherous” advances to a young man at a Tory party conference.
The Sunday Times alleged he made unwanted passes at two Tory MPs in 2017 and 2018, after his first resignation as a whip over claims he made unwanted advances to Olympic rower Alex Story. After a Tory party investigation into the incident, he was cleared of any breach of its code of conduct.
The Conservative Party has hit by a series of scandals over alleged misconduct in the past year. In May, Neil Parish quit as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after admitting viewing pornography in the Commons chamber.
A month earlier then-Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for 18 months for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
David Warburton, who represents Somerton and Frome, had the Conservative whip withdrawn in April after allegations of sexual harassment and cocaine use emerged.
Rob Roberts was stripped of the Tory whip last year after the Independent Expert Panel (IEP) found he broke the sexual misconduct policy by making repeated and unwanted advances to a man.
In May an unnamed Tory MP had been told by whips to stay away from parliament after being arrested on suspicion of rape.