Boris Johnson was aware of some allegations relating to Chris Pincher when the MP for Tamworth was appointed deputy chief whip in February, Downing Street has admitted.
No 10 conceded that Johnson was aware of allegations that were “either resolved or did not proceed to a formal complaint” in relation to Pincher, who resigned last week over reports that he drunkenly groped two men in a London club.
Since then, a number of further allegations have emerged, which Pincher denies, that he groped people, including Tory MPs.
The admission came after No 10 said on Friday that Johnson was not aware of any “specific allegations” about Pincher, who had the whip suspended on Friday when one of his alleged victims made a complaint to the independent complaints and grievance scheme (ICGS).
A whips office source subsequently acknowledged on Sunday that a “matter” had been raised about Pincher at the time of the February reshuffle in which he was promoted.
Downing Street’s position shifted again on Monday morning. Johnson’s official spokesman said: “At the time of the appointment, the prime minister was not aware of any specific allegations being looked at. The prime minister was aware of media reports that others had seen over the years and some allegations that were either resolved or did not proceed to a formal complaint.”
The spokesperson said he was not aware that the prime minister had asked Pincher about any allegations against him and would not say how many concerns were raised about him, but argued that the absence of any formal complaint meant he did not stop the appointment.
“I can’t get into too much detail, but he did take advice on some of the allegations that had been made, but there was no formal complaint at that time and it was deemed not appropriate to stop an appointment simply because of unsubstantiated allegations,” the spokesperson said.
“He was aware that there had been reports and speculation over the years with regards to this individual, but there were no specific allegation. There was no formal complaint at that time,” the spokesperson said.
Advice was sought from the government’s propriety and ethics team, who did not advise against the move, he added, saying he could not give details about how this process took place.
Johnson’s spokesperson declined to comment on whether Johnson had ever referred to the MP as “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature”, saying: “I’ve seen those unsubstantiated source quotes and I don’t intend to respond to them.”
Told that the reported quote came from a named person – Johnson’s former chief aide, Dominic Cummings – the spokesperson added: “I’m simply not going to comment on content of what was or wasn’t said in private conversations.”
Asked whether Johnson regretted giving Pincher the role, the spokesperson said that while he could not give details due to investigations into the MP, “clearly, we wouldn’t want anyone working in the government to behave in the manner as he is alleged to have done so”.
The Pincher affair is one of a string of sexual misconduct allegations against Tory MPs, leading to calls for Johnson to clean up the culture in Westminster.
Last month, a Conservative MP was arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault offences spanning seven years between 2002 and 2009. He was later bailed without being charged, pending further inquiries.
Imran Ahmad Khan, the Conservative MP for Wakefield, was found guilty in April of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy after plying him with gin at a party in 2008.
Neil Parish, the Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, also stood down in April after admitting to watching porn on his phone in the House of Commons, and another Conservative MP, David Warburton, lost the whip after the Sunday Times reported he was facing allegations from three women – which he denies.