Boris Johnson ‘forgot’ about Chris Pincher groping claims, Downing Street says


The Prime Minister’s spokesman admitted on Tuesday that Mr Johnson had been told about a complaint from officials in 2019.

The admission came despite the spokesman telling journalists just 24 hours earlier the Prime Minister was not aware of any “specific allegations” about Mr Pincher.

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The Tory MP quit last week following allegations he groped two men at a private members’ club.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson claims he forgot being told that one of his colleagues had been accused of sexual harassment.

Downing Street had initially denied the Prime Minister had known about any incidents, prompting a tense interaction with journalists at the day’s lobby briefing.

Arriving more than half an hour late, the spokesman was first asked “are you planning on telling us the truth today?”.

The PM’s spokesman said: “At the time last week, that was the Prime Minister’s view. You will appreciate it takes some time to establish he was briefed, albeit we don’t think in a formal briefing on this.

“This dates back to a number of years. On Friday, it was our belief that he was not informed about that specific incident.”

The admission came after the former top civil servant at the Foreign Office, Lord McDonald, revealed the original No 10 account was “not true” and the Prime Minister had been briefed “in person”.

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In the Commons, responding to a Labor urgent question, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told MPs: “The Prime Minister was made aware of this issue in late 2019. He was told that the permanent secretary had taken the necessary action, no issue therefore arose about [Mr Pincher] remaining as a minister.

“Last week, when fresh allegations arose, the Prime Minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about this incident. As soon as he was reminded, the No 10 press office corrected their public lines.”

Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said the latest disclosures revealed an “ethical vacuum” at the heart of Downing Street.

She said: “The Prime Minister was personally informed about these allegations and yet he was either negligent or complicit.”

There was also a furious backlash from Tory MPs, with the anger towards Downing Street growing by the day.

Conservative former minister John Penrose asked Mr Ellis when he would finally say “enough is enough” and no longer defend the Government. Conservative chairman of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, William Wragg, urged ministers to consider their position.

He said: “I would ask them to consider the common sense of decency that I know the vast, vast majority of them have and ask themselves if they can any longer tolerate being part of a Government which, for better or worse, is widely regarded. of having lost its sense of direction.”

Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Liaison Committee, demanded to know why those with “the wrong attitudes and the wrong behaviours” were promoted by their leaders.

He asked: “Isn’t that exactly what gives permission for the wrong attitudes and the wrong behaviors to persist?”

Meanwhile, Jackie Doyle-Price, a former minister and assistant government whip, insisted the whiff of rumors and historic incidents surrounding Mr Pincher should have been enough to tell the Prime Minister the appointment was not “wise”.

She also called for a “complete reset of standards” and “a complete reboot of the Ministerial Code”.

Over the weekend a series of reports emerged of allegations over a period of years that Mr Pincher repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances to men.

On Monday, Mr Johnson’s spokesman amended the Government’s line to say that while the Prime Minister had been aware of media reports and speculation, any issues had been resolved and they had not led to formal complaints.

But Lord McDonald said the position was still “not accurate”.

In a letter to the parliamentary standards commissioner, he said a group of officials had complained to him about Mr Pincher’s conduct along similar lines to his alleged behavior at the Carlton Club.

Following an investigation, the complaint was upheld, Mr Pincher apologized and promised there would be no repeat of his behaviour.

“Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation,” Lord McDonald wrote.

“There was a ‘formal complaint’. Allegations were ‘resolved’ only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr Pincher was not exonerated. To characterize the allegations as ‘unsubstantiated’ is therefore wrong.”

Lord McDonald acknowledged his action was “very unusual” for a retired senior official.

“I did it by myself, because what I have seen and read over the last few days I knew to be wrong,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.. “Things get to a point where you have to do the right thing,”

In his letter to the commissioner, Lord McDonald said he was acting “out 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 behavior in other contexts,” he wrote.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time, confirmed there had been an investigation into Mr Pincher, but that Lord McDonald had advised that it did not warrant formal disciplinary action.

While he said the-then chief whip, Mark Spencer, had been informed, he did not think Mr Johnson had been told – an impression the Prime Minister appeared to confirm when he spoke to him earlier.

“I have discussed this with the Prime Minister over the last 24 hours, it is not my understanding that he was directly briefed,” he told the Today programme.


www.scotsman.com

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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