Boris Johnson was briefed “in person” about an investigation into the conduct of Chris Pincher when he was a Foreign Office minister, the former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office has said.
Lord McDonald of Salford has submitted a formal complaint to Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone saying the account given by Downing Street was “not true”.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab confirmed that Mr Pincher who resigned last week over allegations he groped two men in a private members’ club, had been investigated in October 2019, but said it did not lead to any formal disciplinary action.
He said that while he had informed the then chief whip, Mark Spencer, about the investigation he did not believe it was necessary to tell the Prime Minister.
Downing Street said that Mr Johnson was aware of concerns about Mr Pincher “inappropriate behaviour” when he made him deputy chief whip in February, but they had either been resolved or were unsubstantiated.
However, in his letter Lord McDonald said: “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”.
What did Lord McDonald say?
In his letter, Lord McDonald said that in the summer of 2019, shortly after Mr Pincher was made Europe minister, a group of officials in the Foreign Office had complained to him about his behaviour.
He said that an investigation into the allegations – which were similar to his alleged behaviour at the Carlton Club – had upheld the complaint.
He said Mr Pincher had apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour and there was no repetition at the Foreign Office before he left seven months later to become a housing minister.
Lord McDonald acknowledged that it was unusual to write to the commissioner and simultaneously publicise the letter which he posted on social media.
He wrote: “I am conscious of the duty owed to the target of an investigation but I act out of of my duty towards the victims. Mr Pincher deceived me and others in 2019.
“He cannot be allowed to use the confidentiality of the process three years ago to pursue his predatory behaviour in other contexts.”
What has Donwing Street said?
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that while Mr Johnson knew of the claims against Mr Pincher, it was not considered appropriate to block the appointment based on “unsubstantiated allegations”.
He said: “There was no formal complaint at that time”.
The BBC said then-foreign secretary Dominic Raab was also aware of this complaint, triggering a disciplinary process overseen by the Cabinet Office confirming misconduct by Mr Pincher.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said he had spoken to Mr Pincher about his conduct and warned him it must not be repeated.
Mr Raab, who was Foreign Secretary at the time, told Times Radio: “There was a complaint made in October 2019. It was a complaint of inappropriate conduct. I immediately agreed with the permanent secretary he should conduct an assessment whether it warranted disciplinary action.
“He did so. The permanent secretary did not think independently that any formal action under the Civil Service disciplinary processes in the Foreign Office was warranted.
“He spoke to Chris Pincher. I also spoke to Chris Pincher to make sure the behaviour was not repeated.
“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.”
A government spokesperson said: “There are robust procedures in place for any members of staff to raise allegations of misconduct. It is long-standing policy not to comment on any matters involving individual cases.”
Downing Street, and a succession of ministers, had previously stated Mr Johnson had not been aware of any “specific allegations” against Mr Pincher.
Is Chris Pincher still the Tory whip?
The former deputy chief whip dropped the government into a new crisis when he dramatically quit last week over allegations he groped two men at a Conservative private members’ club.
Mr Pincher previously resigned from the whips’ office in 2017 over claims he made unwanted advances to a young activist, but was later reinstated after being cleared by an internal Conservative Party investigation.
However, over the weekend details emerged of further claims about alleged sexual advances to men, including two fellow Conservative MPs.
Mr Pincher has denied the allegations to the newspapers which carried them.
Although Mr Pincher quit his government position on Thursday evening, Mr Johnson has faced criticism that it was not until 5pm on Friday that he finally had the whip withdrawn and expelled from the parliamentary Conservative Party.
Mr Pincher faces an investigation by Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme after one of the men he allegedly groped last week at the Carlton Club submitted a formal complaint.
In a statement at the weekend, the Tamworth MP, who now sits as an independent, said he would co-operate fully with the inquiry.
He said: “As I told the Prime Minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others, and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused.
“The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support.
“I am in the process of seeking that now, and I hope to be able to return to my constituency duties as soon as possible.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said the Prime Minister had been aware of the “speculation” there had been about Mr Pincher over several years when he made him deputy chief whip.
The spokesman said: “I can’t get into too much detail but he did take advice on some of the allegations that had been made, but there was no formal complaint at that time and it was deemed not appropriate to stop an appointment simply because of unsubstantiated allegations”
The spokesman declined to comment on a claim by Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, that the Prime Minister had referred to the MP as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”.
He said: “I’m simply not going to comment on content of what was or wasn’t said in private conversations”
What did Labour say?
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said the appointment of Mr Pincher as Tory deputy chief whip was another example of poor judgment by Mr Johnson.
He told Sky News: “I have got no sympathy with a Prime Minister who repeatedly makes bad judgment calls.
“We have been living with a version of this story for month after month after month. Bad judgment by a man who puts himself above everything. I don’t have any sympathy for him.”