Dominic Raab has suggested he was assured that Boris Johnson was not directly told about a formal complaint against Chris Pincher, as he faces a grilling about Lord McDonald’s claims.
The Justice Secretary repeatedly suggested Mr Johnson was unaware of any specific details over a complaint made in 2019 against Mr Pincher, who resigned from Government after a series of allegations emerged last week.
Lord McDonald, the former permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, said in a letter Mr Johnson had been briefed “in person” about the investigation.
He accused Downing Street of “telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time”, claiming that the allegations were “‘resolved’ only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr Pincher was not exonerated”.
Mr Raab, who is expected to be asked about the scandal at oral questions in the House of Commons later on Tuesday morning, faced a series of uncomfortable interviews as part of his morning media round batting for the Government.
Asked if he informed Mr Johnson of the investigation, he told Sky News: “No, and I wouldn’t expect to in relation to something that fell below the bar of disciplinary action.
“What I did do was inform the Chief Whip because I do think it is important that we keep a proper record, and I referred it to the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team because I wanted the assurance.
“And that is not to say that I disagreed with the view of the permanent secretary or the Civil Service, but because I attach such importance to those around and those who work with us having the confidence in the processes which are there to protect them.”
Deputy PM @DominicRaab recalls an allegation of 'inappropriate behaviour' against Chris Pincher in 2019 when he was foreign secretary.
More on this story: https://t.co/x2hft61URm pic.twitter.com/snfne0H3jB
— Sky News (@SkyNews) July 5, 2022
But in a letter to the standards commissioner, Lord McDonald accused Downing Street of claims in recent days that were “not true”.
“The original No 10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate,” he wrote. “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.”
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after Lord McDonald’s letter had been published, Mr Raab said: “In relation to what happened in 2019, I'm not aware that the Prime Minister was briefed directly about it.
“I have discussed this with the Prime Minister over the last 24 hours, it is not my understanding that he was directly briefed.”
Will Quince, a junior minister, insisted on Monday’s broadcast round he had been given “categorical assurance” Mr Johnson did not know about specific complaints.
Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, on Sunday said she was also given an assurance by somebody “from the Downing Street press office” that Mr Johnson had been “unaware” of specific allegations.
On Friday, a Downing Street spokesman told journalists the Prime Minister was not aware of “specific” or “substantiated” allegations against Mr Pincher in February 2022, when he was appointed deputy chief whip.
One Tory MP said he would rather "dip my head in a bucket of sick" than have to go on the radio defending the Government's handling of the Pincher affair.