The Conservatives came under growing pressure on Friday to axe former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher from being an MP over groping claims.
Mr Pincher quit his whip’s post on Thursday night in the latest of a series of sex scandals to rock the party. Sources in Downing Street suggested that having resigned, the Tamworth MP may not be suspended from the parliamentary party.
However, Cabinet minister Simon Hart this morning appeared to back the removal of the party whip. He also told of his sadness and feeling of “here we are again” as the Conservatives were hit with another alleged sexual misconduct case.
Boris Johnson flew home from the Nato summit on Thursday but was immediately faced by the fresh turmoil of ally Mr Pincher’s resignation as he sought to move his Government on from the partygate storm to focus on delivering key policies for voters.
Chief Whip Chris Heaton-Harris and other senior party figures were today deciding whether to take any disciplinary action against Mr Pincher, who admitted in his resignation letter that he had “embarrassed myself and other people” after having had “far too much” to drink.
Pressure was growing for them to act after Mr Pincher, who as a whip himself was responsible for maintaining discipline among Conservative MPs, was accused of assaulting two guests at a private members’ club in London, according to The Sun.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “These allegations are really serious. This is about sexual assault. Of course, there has to be a full investigation now and, of course, he should have the whip suspended while that investigation takes place.”
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain added: “Given the seriousness of these allegations, it’s difficult to see how Chris Pincher can continue as an MP. There now needs to be a full investigation and in the meantime Chris Pincher should have the Conservative whip withdrawn.”
It was the second time Mr Pincher has quit the whips office, having resigned as a junior whip in November 2017 following a complaint that he made an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower and Tory candidate Alex Story.
Having referred himself to both the police and the Conservative Party complaints procedure, he was brought back by Theresa May as deputy chief whip in January 2018. He was cleared of wrongdoing by a Tory inquiry.
He later became a minister in various departments but was made deputy chief whip again by Mr Johnson in February after he was part of a “shadow whipping operation” which was key in stopping a revolt by Tory MPs against the Prime Minister.
Dozens of people were said to have been in a small room with a bar at the private members’ Carlton Club in Piccadilly on Wednesday evening, including other MPs, ministers, PR executives and guests.
In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Pincher apologised for his behaviour, saying it had been “the honour of my life” to have served in the Government. “Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people, which is the last thing I want to do and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned,” he said. “I think the right thing to do in the circumstances is for me to resign as deputy chief whip. I owe it to you and the people I’ve caused upset to, to do this.”
Cabinet minister Mr Hart said: “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 a complaint, they can do so.”
Asked whether he believed Mr Pincher should lose the whip, Mr Hart said he knew “what he would like to see happen” but that the decision was not down to him. “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.” Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today, he added: “My first reaction to it when I heard this last night was one of sadness and frustration that here we are again... It’s absolutely beholden on us to make sure that we do these things properly, from the point of view of the victims.” He added that any investigation into Mr Pincher’s conduct should have “some pace” but warned against rushing these inquiries and getting them wrong.
The allegations against Mr Pincher follow the Wakefield by-election triggered after Imran Ahmad Khan quit as a Tory MP having been found guilty of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy — a crime for which he was jailed for 18 months. A by-election was also held in Tiverton and Honiton after Neil Parish resigned as the Conservative MP having admitted watching pornography in the Commons chamber.
The Tories lost both by-elections, sparking the resignation of the party’s chairman Oliver Dowden.
Somerton and Frome MP David Warburton was suspended from the Tory parliamentary party in April pending an investigation into allegations about his conduct, amid claims of sexual harassment of women. Another Conservative MP has been arrested on suspicion of rape and sexual assault offences spanning a seven-year period.