Bewilderment In Downing Street Over Response To Chris Pincher Allegations
There is frustration among figures inside Downing Street that Conservative MP Chris Pincher hasn't had the whip removed over allegations that he groped two men.
The Tory MP for Tamworth resigned as deputy chief whip last night, telling Boris Johnson that he drank "far too much" alcohol and "embarrassed myself and other people" on Wednesday evening.
The Sun reported that Pincher is accused of groping two men at central London's Carlton Club, and that several Conservative MPs complained to the whips' office about his behaviour.
The Prime Minister has so far decided not to remove the Conservative whip from Pincher, however. A senior Tory party source last night was quoted as saying the Tory MP had done the "decent thing" by resigning from government and that further action was not necessary.
This morning there is anger and bewilderment within Downing Street that Pincher remains a Conservative MP, PoliticsHome understands.
One government source said removing the whip from him "was the only option", and expressed frustration that Johnson's top team was repeating past mistakes by not taking action sooner.
They also expressed their support for Simon Hart, the Secretary of State for Wales, who this morning dropped a major hint that he wanted to see Pincher lose the Tory whip.
Hart told Sky News: "It is not my decision. I know what I'd like to see happen. You can probably tell what that is just from the way I am trying to avoid answering your question."
Hart was also backed by a Conservative MP who told PoliticsHome he was "the adult in the room this morning".
The Welsh Secretary suggested in his interview that Downing Street would be forced to remove the whip from Pincher as soon as today. "I just think let today play out, let the chief whip do his duty, and we might be having a very different conversation as the day goes on," Hart said.
A particularly furious Tory party source said the Prime Minister must explain why he made Pincher the deputy chief whip at February's reshuffle. This follows Politico London Playbook reporting that Johnson was made aware of allegations of inappropriate behaviour (which Pincher denied) before making the appointment.
They said that the deputy chief whip traditionally handles MP welfare, and accused Johnson of neglecting the safety of Conservative MPs by putting Pincher in that role.
“This leads straight back to Boris," they told PoliticsHome.
"Not just their woeful holding line, but the process around his appointment.
"Why on earth Boris gave him that role [...] beggars belief. It’s neglect. And if Boris was warned about alleged conduct issues, then it’s wilful neglect on behalf of the PM towards his own MPs."
A former special adviser in the whips office told PoliticsHome that the whips function itself could be at risk after Pincher's resignation.
Shadow justice minister Ellie Reeves said after Pincher’s resignation there are now “quite serious questions about how he ever ended up in that job in the first place”.
She told Times Radio: “He still has the Conservative whip and I really hope that the Conservative Party aren't just going to sweep this under the carpet.
“It is clear that this is very serious, and actually, is really part of a pattern that we're seeing in the Conservative Party where it seems to be one scandal after another at the moment.”
The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “It’s difficult to see how Chris Pincher can continue as an MP” given how serious the allegations against him are.
“There now needs to be a full investigation and in the meantime Chris Pincher should have the Conservative whip withdrawn,” she added.
“Boris Johnson also has serious questions to answer over why he appointed Chris Pincher to a role with important safeguarding responsibilities despite concerns about him having already been raised."
Additional reporting by Alain Tolhurst and Eleanor Langford.
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