Chris Pincher: shamed former Tory whip adds to sense of crisis over Johnson

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA</span>
Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

The former Tory whip who has been suspended as an MP for allegedly groping two male colleagues said on Saturday he was seeking “professional medical support” for his problems as the latest Tory sex scandal spelt yet more trouble for Boris Johnson.

Chris Pincher, who has been referred to the independent complaints and grievance scheme in relation to incidents at the Carlton Club in central London on Wednesday evening, said he was “truly sorry” and that he hoped be back serving his constituents again “as soon as possible.”

The MP for Tamworth resigned as deputy chief whip on Thursday after the allegations emerged. Pincher said at the time that he had drunk too much and had “embarrassed myself and other people”.

But Johnson became drawn into controversy when he initially resisted calls for further action against Pincher, who is a close ally of the prime minister. While several senior Tories demanded the whip be withdrawn because of previous allegations of inappropriate behaviour against Pincher, Johnson said the matter should be regarded as closed, only to change course and suspend him on Friday when more details were made public.

In 2017, Pincher quit a more junior role in the whips’ office over claims he had made unwanted advances to another Tory colleague. Despite this, he was subsequently promoted to the role of deputy chief whip, which involves disciplining MPs and offering pastoral care.

One former cabinet minister said on Saturday that the whole incident had not only brought shame on Pincher, but yet more discredit on Downing Street. “No 10’s reaction has been disastrous, combining complete ineptitude with dishonesty. If the prime minister was unaware of this guy’s record, as was the suggestion, he is the only person in the whole of Westminster who was.”

In a statement on Saturday Pincher – the latest of several Tories to become embroiled in sex-related scandals over recent weeks – said: “I respect the prime minister’s decision to suspend the whip whilst an inquiry is under way, and I will cooperate fully with it. As I told the prime minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others, and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused. The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support. I am in the process of seeking that now, and I hope to be able to return to my constituency duties as soon as possible.”

The Pincher saga comes just a week after Johnson and his party suffered a devastating double byelection defeat at the hands of the Liberal Democrats and Labour, in contests in Tiverton and Honiton, in Devon, and Wakefield, in Yorkshire, that were both triggered when the Conservative incumbents had to quit over sex scandals.

Increasingly, senior Tories are beginning to prepare the ground for removing Johnson from office, as their fears grow that the electorate has turned against them over Partygate, the cost of living crisis, and a wider sense of ill-discipline and decay at the heart of government.

While Downing Street insists that Johnson – who will face a grilling by select committee chairs at a meeting of the commons liaison committee on Wednesday – is determined to fight on, a growing number of his MPs believe he cannot lead them into the next election if the party is to stand any chance of hanging on to power.

Some now predict that Johnson could face an ultimatum from the dreaded “men in grey suits” to step down before the Conservative party conference in October.

The Observer has been told that since 148 of the 180 Tory MPs refused to back the prime minister in a vote of confidence on 7 June – 32 short of the number necessary to trigger his immediate removal from office under party rules – more letters have been written to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, demanding that Johnson step down. Party grandees now believe it is possible that the number of Tory MPs sending letters to Brady could reach 50% of the parliamentary party by the end of the two-week period in September when parliament returns, but before the Tory gathering in Birmingham.

Johnson’s critics believe that if that is the case, at that point Brady could inform the prime minister that he had lost the confidence of a majority of his parliamentary party and call on him to go. This option would avoid a scenario in which the executive of the 1922 Committee would have to change the rules on leadership elections, to allow a second confidence vote to be held soon. Under the rules, another vote of confidence is not possible until at least a year after the last one.

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Labour’s Luke Pollard, a shadow defence minister, said: “It’s yet another example of Tory sleaze that has been poorly handled by the prime minister. Politics really should reflect the best of our values as a country and I’m afraid what we’re seeing at the moment is yet another conservative MP after Conservative MP, doing something utterly appalling and seemingly being protected by Downing Street.

“If the prime minister had an ounce of decency, [he] would have withdrawn the whip immediately, not waited to see if he could sit it out to reward this arch-loyalist with a little bit more protection.”

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