Minister Says Boris Johnson Unaware Of Chris Pincher Accusations Before Appointment, Despite Slew Of New Allegations
A Cabinet minister has insisted that Boris Johnson was unaware of harassment allegations against Chris Pincher before he was appointed deputy chief whip, despite multiple reports suggesting the contrary.
Work and Pensions Secretary Thérèse Coffey defended the Prime Minister in the face of growing questions over his conduct in handing Pincher the role of Deputy Chief Whip in February.
"I am aware that the Prime Minister was not aware of specific claims that had been made,” she told Sky's Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme this morning.
It comes after a slew of new allegations of misconduct against Pincher over the weekend since his resignation from government and subsequent removal of the Conservative Party whip after his drunken actions at the private Carlton Club in London on Wednesday.
The Sunday Times alleged he made unwanted passes at two Conservative MPs in 2017 and 2018, after his first resignation as a whip over claims he made unwanted advances to Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story.
The Mail on Sunday alleged he threatened to report a parliamentary researcher to her boss after she tried to stop his "lecherous" advances to a young man at a Tory party conference, while The Independent carries a claim by a Conservative MP he was groped on two occasions by Pincher, first in December 2021 and again last month.
Pincher has denied all the allegations to newspapers, has said he is seeking "professional medical support" and hopes to return to represent his constituents in Staffordshire "as soon as possible”.
Johnson was not aware of “specific allegations” against Pincher before he was appointed back in February, Downing Street has said.
But that is being contested, after The Sunday Telegraph reported the PM was warned about previous allegations of sexual misconduct and that he turned a blind eye to the claims.
It even reportedly led to the resignation of another whip over it, with Craig Whittaker’s decision to leave government earlier this year said to be in protest at Pincher's appointment.
Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings said he had referred to the MP "laughingly in Number 10 as 'Pincher by name, pincher by nature' long before appointing him”.
But Coffey stuck to the line the PM was not “aware of specific claims” as she spoke to Sky News.
“It was news to me this morning to read the reason why Craig Whittaker resigned from government and I have no idea what Dominic Cummings tweets on anything, I don't follow his Twitter handle,” she added.
The Work and Pensions Secretary faced repeated questioning to explain what was known before Pincher was hired to a senior government role which saw him responsible for the welfare of his fellow MPs.
It is understood confirmation of his role during a wider reshuffle in February was held up while the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics (PET) team investigated allegations, but the PM’s spokesman told reporters there were no “formal complaints” and so therefore he was given the role as “it was not appropriate to stop an appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations”.Asked about this Coffey told Sky News: "I don't know about any individual conversations.
"It's been suggested there was a discussion, a referral to PET - which happens with all ministerial appointments, there's an element of a bit of vetting that goes on - but ultimately the decision is that of the Prime Minister. I'm not part of those individual conversations.
"Chris had served in government before and had been a minister elsewhere, so I'm not aware that there was anything that was brought to the attention of the Prime Minister to make that change."
She added that she was “not involved in any of those direct conversations”, to which presenter Sophy Ridge countered: "Why don't you ask? I get perhaps it's easier to just to be able to come on these programmes and say, 'look, I don't know', but surely you must ask to try and find out.
“That's the first thing most people would do - when did the Prime Minister know? - so when I am asked this question I can give the answer."
Coffey reiterated her previous statement, during which Ridge interjected again, but having said sorry for interrupting her the minister simply replied: "You don't need to apologise, I'm just going to give you the same answer Sophy."
Asked if she herself was aware of concerns about Pincher's behaviour, she said: "I've been in Parliament the same length of time as Chris Pincher, I don't pretend to be part of the general chatter, rumour mill discussions, I know Chris hasn't been, I don't believe he's been in a long-term relationship but that's about as far as my knowledge goes."
Pressed again to say if she knew of allegation she replied: "No I wasn't, I'm just not part of that sort of kind of chatter group, as it were."
Pincher, the MP for Tamworth since 2010, resigned on Thursday after saying he had "drunk far too much" the previous night, "embarrassing myself and others, and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused,” but The Sun reported that he was also accused of groping two men at the Carlton Club.
In a new statement yesterday he said he would "co-operate fully" with the investigation after complaints were made to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Service on Friday.
"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," he continued.
"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."
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