The Downing Street Line On Chris Pincher Is Becoming Increasingly Untenable
Government chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris and his former deputy, Chris Pincher, in Downing Street. (Photo: Aaron Chown via PA Wire/PA Images)
Work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey endured a torrid round of broadcast interviews this morning as she was quizzed on the Chris Pincher affair.
Unless Downing Street can come up with a plausible line on what the prime minister knew and when, she won’t be the last minister to suffer the same fate.
Pincher resigned as the government’s deputy chief whip on Thursday night after admitting he “embarrassed myself and others” when he “drank far too much” at Tory watering hole the Carlton Club 24 hours earlier.
It came after The Sun reported he allegedly drunkenly “groped” two men following a reception for the Conservative Friends of Cyprus.
After initially refusing to strip the Tamworth MP of the Tory whip, Boris Johnson bowed to the inevitable late on Friday afternoon when it was announced that Pincher had been suspended by the party.
During a briefing for journalists on Friday morning, a Number 10 spokesman insisted the PM had not been aware of any “specific allegations” against Pincher before making him deputy chief whip in February.
“There was no basis to stop the appointment in the absence of any formal complaint,” he said.
The spokesperson said Pincher could not be blocked from being given a job on the basis of “unsubstantiated allegations”.
But today’s papers were awash with fresh allegations about the MP’s behaviour - which he denies - as well as what Johnson knew about them and when.
The PM was even accused by the Mail on Sunday of saying: “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.”
If true, this rather blows a hole in the line that the prime minister knew nothing about the rumours surrounding his Tory colleague.
Asked about those claims, a Number 10 source would only say: “Propriety and ethics did not raise any objection to appointing [Pincher].”
This is a reference to the background checks carried out prior to Pincher officially getting the job.
But pressed on the specific claims about what the PM knew, the No. 10 source was unusually tight-lipped.
This means that whichever minister is put up by Downing Street on the broadcast rounds tomorrow, he or she will most likely suffer the same ignominy Coffey did this morning.
At a time when Boris Johnson needs all the friends on the Conservative benches he can get, this is not a situation which can be sustained for long.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.