Future of Tory MP Chris Pincher hangs in balance over 'drunken groping' claim

·4 min read

A cabinet minister has refused to be drawn on the future of a Tory MP who allegedly groped two men, as Labour demands he is kicked out the party.

Wales Secretary Simon Hart told Sky News he was "very sad" about the situation, but insisted it was for the Conservative chief whip to make a decision over the future of Chris Pincher.

There was also a complaints process to be followed, he said.

Politics latest: Tory Party 'mired in sleaze and scandal'

Mr Pincher, 52, resigned from his role as deputy chief whip after admitting he had drunk "far too much" and "embarrassed myself and other people" on a night out.

"I apologise to you and to those concerned," the MP for Tamworth said in a letter to the prime minister.

As deputy chief whip, he had been responsible for party discipline and ensuring the smooth running of government business at Westminster.

Mr Pincher "groped two men in front of others" at the Carlton Club in the St James's area of central London, a government source told Sky News.

One of them was an MP, and the second may also be a member of parliament, the source added.

The controversy has led to calls for Mr Pincher to be stripped of the whip, which would see him suspended from the parliamentary group, forcing him to sit as an independent without the support of the party.

Mr Pincher has been an MP since 2010 and at the last election was returned with a majority of more than 19,000.

The Conservatives will be anxious to avoid another by-election, coming in the wake of two recent bruising polls.

'This is not the first time'

Mr Hart told Sky News: "This makes me very sad, it makes me sad for everybody who's been involved in these things.

"It's clearly something which has gone terribly wrong.

"There is a process, I think it's important that the process is followed."

He added: "I think it is entirely right, that the chief whip and others take a view today about what is the appropriate course of action.

"Of course, if there are those who are victims of this or who wish to raise complaint, they can do so.

"The chief whip looking into this and deciding what to do next is not dependent on a complaint being made, that can happen anyway.

"Let's let today play out, let the chief whip do his duty today, and then I think we might be having a very different conversation as the day goes on."

Pressed over whether he hoped the matter would get swept under the carpet, he said: "Absolutely not.

"This is not the first time, I fear it possibly won't be the last. This happens in workplaces from time to time."

'Serious questions' for PM

It is the second time Mr Pincher has quit the whips' office.

In November 2017, Downing Street said he had "voluntarily referred himself both to the party's complaints procedure and the police".

The Mail on Sunday reported he had been accused of making an unwanted pass at Conservative activist and former British rower Alex Story.

Mr Pincher told the newspaper: "If Mr Story has ever felt offended by anything I said, then I can only apologise to him."

Theresa May reappointed him to the whips' office the following year.

Before that, Mr Pincher was minister for Europe and the Americas, and minister for housing.

He also writes a column on alcoholic drinks for The Critic magazine. A recent one was headlined "Fall into the gin trap."

Responding to the latest allegations, Labour frontbencher Ellie Reeves said: "There are real questions about how the deputy chief whip got his job in the first place, given he had previously had to resign from government due to similar allegations."

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: "Boris Johnson also has serious questions to answer over why he appointed Chris Pincher to a role with important safeguarding responsibilities, despite concerns about him having already been raised."

It is the latest controversy to rock the Tory government, following the partygate scandal that saw Mr Johnson fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaking lockdown rules.

In May, Neil Parish resigned as a Conservative MP after admitting watching pornography in the House of Commons.

And Imran Ahmad Khan was expelled from the party after being found guilty of sexually assaulting a teenager.

The Tories are not the only party currently facing sleaze allegations.

Earlier this month, it emerged that SNP MP Patrick Grady was facing suspension from the House of Commons after an allegation of sexual misconduct was upheld following a parliamentary investigation.

The SNP's leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, has faced calls to step down over his response to the incident.

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