The parliamentary watchdog has opened an investigation into an MP who was accused of groping two men in a Westminster private members’ club.
Highly-publicised allegations against former government whip Chris Pincher surfaced in July, eventually leading to the wave of resignations by Conservative MPs that prompted Boris Johnson to resign.
Pincher, who remains an MP but lost the Conservative whip and now sits as an independent, reportedly received a “loss of office” payment of almost £9,000 following the incident.
Investigation underway into former government whip
The parliamentary commissioner for standards has opened an investigation into whether Chris Pincher breached the MPs code of conduct, following a number of sexual misconduct allegations which surfaced earlier this year.
While another parliamentary watchdog reportedly ruled out an investigation into Pincher earlier this year as the allegations did not relate to events which took place in Parliament, the commissioner launched an investigation last week.
Pincher is being investigated for potentially “causing significant damage to the reputation of the House as a whole, or of its Members generally”.
What will happen to Chris Pincher?
The parliamentary commissioner for standards does not have the power to directly suspend or remove MPs from parliament.
If an allegation that an MP has broken the code of conduct is upheld, the commissioner will either conclude the investigation through the rectification process, if the breach is found to be less serious, or could refer the matter to the committee on standards.
The rectification process generally involves little more than the MP acknowledging and apologising for the breach, and laying out any steps they’re taking to ensure further breaches don’t happen.
In more serious cases, the commissioner will refer the matter to the parliamentary select committee on standards, a body made up of MPs and lay-members. The committee will then weigh up the evidence presented by the commissioner and reach their own conclusion on whether a breach had occurred and, if so, whether a sanction such as a suspension from parliament is imposed.
If an MP is suspended for at least 10 sitting days, or 14 calendar days, following a report by the Committee on Standards, they must then face a recall petition in their constituency. This means that if more than 10% of the electorate in their constituency sign a petition calling for their recall, the MP will lose their seat and a by-election will be called.
What allegations have been made against Chris Pincher?
According to The Sun, the 52 year old allegedly groped two fellow patrons at the Carlton Club in London’s Piccadilly on Wednesday (29 June), which is the Tory Party’s exclusive private members’ club.
Speaking to the Times anonymously, one of the men said that he had been buying a round of drinks when Pincher groped him on his backside before moving his hand to his groin. It was the first time he had met Pincher.
Pincher had the Conservative whip removed after he had been reported to Parliament’s behaviour watchdog. He represents Tamworth in Staffordshire and has previously said he has no intentions of resigning as an MP. The former whip has since said in a statement that he is seeking “professional medical support”, and that he hopes to return to his duties as an MP “as soon as possible”.
Pincher was previously suspended from the party in 2017 after allegations came to light that he had acted inappropriately toward former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story. Mr Story alleged that in 2001 Pincher had made an unwanted advance on him after he had invited him back to his London home. He claimed that Pincher had attempted to untuck his shirt and had massaged his neck. He said that Pincher poured him a whisky and whispered to him: “You’ll go far in the Conservative Party.”
Pincher then allegedly left the room and when he returned, Story said he was wearing a “bathrobe like a pound shop Harvey Weinstein, with his chest and belly sticking out”.
The Conservative Party carried out an investigation which concluded that Pincher did not breach the code of conduct, so we was allowed back into the party. The MP previously told The Mail on Sunday: “If Mr Story has ever felt offended by anything I said then I can only apologise to him.”
At the time, a Conservative spokesman said: “Following media allegations, Chris Pincher referred himself to our code of conduct. Following an investigation, a panel headed by an independent QC considered the evidence and has concluded there has not been a breach of the code of conduct.”