How No 10's story has changed over the Chris Pincher scandal

·7 min read
He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - www.christopherpincher.com
He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - www.christopherpincher.com

Downing Street has been urged to “come clean” about what the Prime Minister knew about Chris Pincher as he comes under growing pressure over the handling of the affair.

On Monday morning Boris Johnson was accused of “telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time” over its handling of the scandal.

But how exactly has Number Ten’s story changed? Here we examine the key claims that have been made ever since the story first broke on Thursday night.

Thursday night, 30 June: Story first breaks in The Sun

Shortly before 8pm on Thursday evening, The Sun publishes its exclusive story online. They were the first to break the news that Pincher, the deputy chief whip, offered his resignation.

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, he admitted that he “embarrassed myself and other people” by drinking too much on Wednesday night at a private members’ club in London. The Sun newspaper also carried allegations that Pincher had groped two men and that MPs who witnessed this had contacted the whips’ office to report it.

He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - RICHARD TOWNSHEND /AFP
He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - RICHARD TOWNSHEND /AFP

This story was followed up by all the major newspapers and on Thursday night a Conservative party source briefed journalists that Pincher would not face any inquiry or disciplinary process. The Telegraph was told: “The PM thinks he’s done the decent thing by resigning. There is no need for an investigation and no need to suspend the whip.”

Friday morning, 1 July: PM not aware of ‘specific’ allegations

New claims emerge during the course of the day about what exactly the Prime Minister knew about Pincher’s conduct. Several sources claimed that Number Ten had been warned about his behaviour, with Steve Barclay, the Downing Street chief of staff, said to have raised concerns.

On Friday morning, a Downing Street spokesman says that the Prime Minister was not aware of any “specific” or “substantiated” allegations against Pincher before he was appointed as deputy chief whip in February.

He adds that ministerial appointments are vetted by the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team, adding that the absence of any “formal complaints” meant it was “not appropriate” to block the appointment.

Downing Street is pressed on whether the Prime Minister considers the matter closed, and a spokesman says: "The Prime Minister thinks it was right for him to have resigned and he has accepted his resignation. He believes that the behaviour was unacceptable, which is why he's accepted the resignation."

Friday afternoon, 1 July: Whip removed from Pincher

However, by the end of the day, Downing Street’s position changes once again. At around 5pm, reporters are told that the whip had been removed from Pincher. A spokesperson for the Chief Whip says: “Having heard that a formal complaint has been made to the ICGS, the PM has agreed with the Chief Whip that the whip should be suspended from Chris Pincher while the investigation is ongoing.

He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - Aaron Chown /PA Wire
He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - Aaron Chown /PA Wire

Downing Street continues to brief journalists that the Prime Minister did not know of any formal complaints made against Pincher when he was appointed deputy chief whip in February, adding that it would have been impossible to block Pincher’s appointment on the basis of “gossip, rumour, and hearsay”.

Saturday 2 July: Seeking medical support

Pincher releases a statement saying he is seeking "professional medical support" and that he hopes to return to his duties as an MP "as soon as possible".

Sunday 3 July: “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”

The Sunday papers carry a series of lurid allegations about Pincher, which date back years. These included reports in the Independent that he groped an unnamed male Conservative MP twice in the past eight months, and Mail on Sunday claims about his behaviour a decade ago as well as at last year’s Conservative Party conference.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported Mr Pincher had touched the inner leg of a male Tory MP in 2017, made unwanted advances towards a second colleague in 2018, and was inappropriate towards a local party activist in 2019. Mr Pincher denied all the allegations in the papers that carried them.

Many papers also report a comment by Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former chief of staff, who claimed Mr Johnson referred to the MP as “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature”.

Monday 4 July: Will Quince given ‘categorical assurance’

By now at least 12 other alleged incidents have been reported in the media. Mark Dabbs, a charity fundraiser in Mr Pincher’s Tamworth constituency, claims in The Sun on Monday that he had been groped as they posed for a photograph in 2018.

Will Quince, a junior minister from the Department for Education, does the morning media rounds for the Government. He says Downing Street had given him a “categorical assurance that the Prime Minister was not aware of any specific allegation or complaint made against the former deputy chief whip” when Pincher was given the job in February.

He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Live News /https://www.alamy.com
He said, they said: How the Chris Pincher allegations emerged and what No 10 said about it - ZUMA Press, Inc. / Alamy Live News /https://www.alamy.com

Later that morning, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman admits that Downing Street was aware of "allegations" as well as "reports and speculation" over the years about Pincher’s conduct.

But he says these were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint” meaning it would not have been “appropriate” to stop his appointment.

Tuesday 5 July: Downing St told to ‘come clean’

Lord Simon McDonald, the former permanent secretary and head of the Diplomatic Service at the Foreign Office, becomes the most senior figure yet to publicly challenge Downing Street’s account of what it knew and when.

He claims Mr Johnson was briefed "in person" about an investigation into an allegation of "inappropriate behaviour" against Chris Pincher when the latter was a Foreign Office minister in 2019.

Lord McDonald of Salford submitted a formal complaint to Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone saying the account given by Downing Street of Mr Johnson's handling of the scandal was “not true”.

In his letter Lord McDonald said: “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."

He tells BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Downing Street needs to “come clean” over its handling of questions about the Prime Minister’s awareness of allegations against Pincher.

Asked if he was sure that Mr Johnson was told, Lord McDonald says: "I know that the senior official briefed the Prime Minister in person because that official told me so at the time.”

He adds that the “categorical assurance” that Mr Quince was given by Downing Street the previous day was “wrong”.

Tuesday 5 July: Raab responds

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, who was the foreign secretary at the time of the complaint derailed by Lord McDonald, says it was investigated “under the Civil Service’s auspices” and it “did not recommend formal disciplinary action”.

Mr Raab says: “I spoke to Chris Pincher about the inappropriate behaviour and made it clear in no uncertain terms it should desist, it must never be repeated, so did the permanent secretary.

“For additional assurance, because I take this so seriously, I also referred it to the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team which also looked at it for example to see whether action was warranted under the ministerial code, they didn’t, they agreed that it didn’t warrant that.

“So although there was a complaint made about inappropriate behaviour it did not trigger the disciplinary action either at the Civil Service level or the Cabinet Office level in relation to the code of conduct.”

Raab says he did not tell Boris Johnson about the complaint made against Chris Pincher when the latter was a Foreign Office minister in 2019. He says he did inform the chief whip and referred it to the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team.

Dominic Raab says he was "not aware" of Boris Johnson having been "briefed directly” about a complaint made against Chris Pincher when he was a foreign office minister in 2019.

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