Fifth By-Election Looms With Chris Pincher Facing Eight Week Suspension Over "Shocking" Misconduct
Chris Pincher has been the MP for Tamworth since 2010 (Alamy)
The parliamentary standards watchdog has recommended that former government whip Chris Pincher should be suspended from parliament for eight weeks following an investigation into his conduct, likely triggering another by-election.
The Standards Committee report, published on Thursday morning, published its findings regarding an incident at the Carlton Club in June 2022, in which Pincher sexually assaulted two men in front of witnesses. It concluded that Pincher’s behaviour represented an abuse of power, as he was in a position of authority as a government whip, and that there was more than one instance where his conduct had a "significant impact" on others.
"The perception that MPs can engage in such conduct with impunity does significantly impact public perception of the House and its Members," the report said.
"We therefore recommend that Mr Pincher be suspended from the service of the House for eight weeks."
As a suspension of eight weeks is over the threshold of a recall petition, a by-election is now likely in Pincher’s constituency, Tamworth, in another potential blow for the Conservative government, with three by-elections already scheduled in July, and another expected in the autumn.
Pincher resigned as Government Deputy Chief Whip in June 2022 after accusations he had groped two men at the Carlton Club. After further historic allegations of sexual misconduct emerged in July 2022, he had the Conservative whip removed but remained in parliament as an independent MP.
The report described the incidents in detail as told by witnesses, including touching the bottom of one man, and then groping another man's bottom and testicles.
The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards said that the damage from Pincher's behaviour to the House and its Members was "significant".
"The damage that has been caused to the reputation and integrity of the House and its Members cannot be described as trivial, unnoteworthy, or not important to address," he said.
"The damage is significant. It involves behaviour that by any standards was shocking, deeply inappropriate, and adversely impacted two unsuspecting individuals who had no expectation that they would be subjected to such behaviour.
"Further, it was conduct that risks advancing a misplaced public perception that Members of Parliament do not have to abide by normal standards of behaviour and can commit acts of misconduct with impunity."
One of the witnesses who was touched by Pincher described the negative impact the incident has had on their wellbeing.
"The incident with Mr Pincher has significantly impacted me," he said.
"I have become increasingly anxious as a result of the incident, and I am now taking medication to manage my anxiety. I am also fearful about whether this incident will impact my job and future career plans.
"After the incident, I stopped exercising, which has resulted in my gaining a lot of weight. I have also been subject to rumours about the incident and speculation about my involvement."
Pincher told the Commissioner that he was unable to recall the events in question, as he was intoxicated. However, he did apologise to the parties involved.
"I’m conscious of the effect the evening and the coverage must have had on all the parties involved, as well as on my own family," Pincher wrote in a submission to the report.
"I’m very sorry and apologise to them all, as I did the day I resigned from the Government."
The allegations against Pincher triggered the ultimate ousting of Boris Johnson from Downing Street as a result of questions over what the prime minister knew about complaints against the MP when he appointed him as a whip.
Pincher already told CCHQ earlier this year that he would be standing down at the next general election, expected in 2024.
The by-election to replace Pincher would be the fourth by-election scheduled this year to replace a Conservative MP, with a fifth expected as Nadine Dorries said she will resign once No 10 explains why she has not been granted a peerage in Johnson’s much-awaited honours list.
Johnson, Nigel Adams, and David Warburton’s constituencies are holding by-elections this month after all three resigned as Conservative MPs in recent weeks.
Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner described the findings of the report as "shocking".
"But what’s even worse, is the way the Conservative party protected him - even promoting him despite a previous investigation into his conduct," she said.
"The British people deserve so much better than 13 years of Tory chaos and sleaze. Rishi Sunak has been too weak to act against Chris Pincher because he’s too weak to lead a Conservative Party which is too divided to govern the country. And it is working people who are paying the price with a cost of living crisis."
Rayner urged Pincher to "do the decent thing and resign as an MP".
Responding to the report, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain said: "Chris Pincher adds his name to the long list of disgraced former Conservatives caught up in sleaze and scandal.
"After missing so many vital votes in Parliament, Rishi Sunak must finally show some backbone and confirm he will vote to suspend Chris Pincher.
"Sunak promised to govern with integrity, he must vote with it."
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