Number 10 has been forced to admit Boris Johnson was personally briefed on an official sexual misconduct allegation against Chris Pincher, before he was then handed a series of ministerial jobs.
Johnson’s spokesman said a “complaint was made” against Pincher when he was a junior foreign office minister in 2019 “and looked into through the processes … the complaint was upheld, but not dealt with as a disciplinary manner”.
It comes after Number 10 yesterday said Johnson was aware of “reports and speculation over the years” that Pincher had been accused of sexual misconduct, but that “in the absence of any formal complaint it wasn’t deemed appropriate to stop the appointment because of any unsubstantiated allegations”.
Downing Street and cabinet ministers had previously said Johnson was not aware of any “specific” allegations against the disgraced former minister.
Today’s admission only came after a former top Foreign Office civil servant said Johnson knew about a specific complaint against the MP before making him deputy chief whip this year – a role that is responsible for overseeing party discipline.
Johnson’s spokesman said the Prime Minister had forgotten about the official complain, despite being given details in 2019.
Lord Simon McDonald today wrote to parliament’s standards watchdog to say Johnson received an in-person briefing on an investigation into Pincher several years ago and that Number 10 had provided “inaccurate” information in the past several days about the scandal.
Pincher resigned on Thursday as Johnson’s deputy chief whip – a position responsible for party discipline – after he allegedly groped two men at an event last week and has now been suspended from sitting as a Conservative MP.
More than a dozen fresh sexual misconduct allegations were made against Pincher in the days after he quit as deputy chief whip.
McDonald wrote: “In the summer of 2019, shortly after he was appointed minister of state for the Foreign Office, a group of officials complained to me about Mr Pincher’s behaviour.
“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.”
A leading Tory rebel told City A.M. that this latest scandal will “ultimately” topple the Prime Minister, after he survived a confidence vote last month.
The Conservative party has a rule in place to stop leaders facing more than one leadership challenge every 12 months, however there is a serious possibility this could be overturned by the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said that McDonald’s letter means 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”.
“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.”
Pincher had the Tory whip suspended on Friday, after it was initially decided he would be able to remain in the party, and is the subject of a parliamentary investigation.
A string of further allegations of sexual misconduct have emerged over the weekend, with as many as 13 people making accusations against the MP.
Former Number 10 aide Dominic Cummings said that Johnson once referred to the MP as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”.
Pincher was appointed as deputy chief whip in February this year, and was a housing minister before that.