Boris Johnson is facing a backlash over the promotion of his ally Chris Pincher, as a group of Conservative parliamentary staff have accused the Prime Minister of ‘failing to act on warnings’ of sexual misconduct from his MPs.
As new allegations emerged about Pincher, who resigned as Deputy Chief Whip following allegations he groped two men at a London club, the No 10 continued to insist on the fact that Johnson was unaware of any “specific” warning until last week.
But a source in the whips office admitted on Sunday that a “matter” relating to Pincher had in fact been brought to their attention during the February reshuffle. The source previously denied receiving any complaints or warnings – formal or informal – about his conduct.
Johnson is likely to face questions in parliament this week over what he knew about the Pincher allegations, after five more reports of alleged misconduct emerged over the weekend, including groping Tory MPs. Pincher denies all allegations against him.
The warning to the whips office in February is said to have come from a Tory MP who was the subject of an unwanted pass from Pincher. A second MP told the Guardian they had raised allegations of sexual misconduct by Pincher with their whip, but without filing a formal complaint as they were not personally a victim.
He said he told the whips office in February that Pincher shouldn’t take the job because he couldn’t be trusted with young male employees. “I told a whip what I thought of Pincher, and that he had a terrible reputation with younger staff and MPs that hadn’t gone away. It still holds.
The MP said they had not made a specific allegation as it would have resulted in a full investigation and he could not guarantee accusers would come forward.
“I would not have wanted to do this without the victim’s express permission. But I wanted them to know there were complaints there.
A third MP said he had warned senior party officials that “Pincher should not be anywhere near the whips’ desk”, let alone in the role of deputy who conferred responsibility for the welfare of MPs as well as discipline.
It was also reported that Steve Barclay, Johnson’s chief of staff, tried to block Pincher’s appointment and requested an investigation by the Cabinet Office’s property and ethics team.
A group of parliamentary aides, called Conservative Staffers for Change, which had previously written to Johnson with their general concerns about sexual misconduct at Westminster, said on Sunday that the stories now coming out about Pincher “come as no surprise. “.
“His behavior was an open secret at Westminster and it is disappointing that it was not addressed sooner,” they said.
“Having raised concerns about sexual misconduct with the Chief Whip, we were disappointed not only by the length of time it took to remove the whip from Pincher, but also by the continued lack of clarity as to what knowledge the PM of his behavior.
“We have written the letter to the Prime Minister raising our concerns about the unlawful sexual misconduct [by those in power abusing their positions] in May, but received no response. It’s not just about the culture of Westminster, it’s about the Prime Minister’s failure to act on warnings of serious misconduct from members of the government. »
The two parliamentary staff representing the group are due to meet Lindsay Hoyle, the chair, this week to ‘raise our concerns about parliament as a workplace and how our employment structures can be reformed’.
Tory MPs have also raised concerns with their whips over why the party has refused to take any allegations about Pincher seriously without a formal complaint from an alleged victim to the Independent Complaints and Grievances Programme.
Anne Milton, the former Tory Deputy Chief Whip, told the Guardian: ‘I am very angry that in our time this kind of behavior continues… Victims will come forward if they trust the process and the person that they are going. This person doesn’t need to be in the whips office, just an elderly person with responsibilities. And absolutely, witnesses should be able to file complaints. It’s absurd to have a system without it.
Senior Tories remain adamant that Tory MP Craig Whittaker resigned as whip in February over ongoing harassment allegations against Pincher, despite Whittaker’s denial.
Whittaker, the MP for Calder Valley, made a statement to the Halifax Courier on Sunday saying he had resigned as whip for health reasons, not because he opposed Pincher’s appointment, as reported. said on Saturday.
But a senior Tory source said: ‘There is no doubt that Craig was worried Pincher was taking on a key role that gave him power over younger MPs, he told people that was the reason.’ Are we really supposed to believe that this was not then passed on to the Prime Minister?This pushes the boundaries of credibility.
Another younger Tory colleague said: ‘There were persistent rumors about Chris and how he behaves when drunk, but there are persistent rumors about most people in parliament and if you believe all, we would not have deputies.
“So I was suspicious of him but I didn’t entirely believe those rumors because I hadn’t met anyone who said they had actually seen him groped or groped. Now, of course, I’m like: ‘should I have said something before?’ But the reality is that it takes a complaint for other complaints to fall.
Pincher had the whip suspended, but Johnson initially resisted the measure until a formal complaint about it was made by a victim to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.