Senior Conservative Women MPs Call For "Zero Tolerance Policy" After Chris Pincher Allegations
Two senior Tory women MPs have written to the Chief Whip calling for a "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to those accused of sexual misconduct.
Karen Bradley and Caroline Nokes, who both chair Commons Select Committees, said they were "deeply concerned" about standards being upheld in Parliament as they suggested ex-deputy chief whip Chris Pincher be booted out of the party if the allegations against him are true.
Their letter will add further pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to remove the whip from Chris Pincher, following allegations made in The Sun that he groped two men at London's Carlton Club, and that several Conservative MPs complained to the whips' office about his behaviour.
In a letter to the Conservative Chief Whip, Chris Heaton Harris, they wrote: "We write as the only two Conservative female Select Committee Chairs, and as senior Parliamentarians deeply concerned that standards of behaviour are upheld across the House.
"Recent incidents have demonstrated an inconsistent and unclear approach by the Party to instances of sexual misconduct. The Party, and by extension, the Government are at risk of serious reputational damage by the current approach.
"We urge you to act swiftly to introduce a code of conduct for all Conservative Members of Parliament which is clear in terms of the expectations of behaviour and which can be applied in a fair, independent manner so as to avoid any suspicion of bias."
The pair also called for the whip to be removed from any MP who was facing an investigation into sexual misconduct claims, saying that they should also be told to stay away from Parliament during any investigation.
"In the meantime we ask that you employ a policy of zero tolerance on these issues and to ensure a thorough investigation is carried out in each and every case.
"Once an investigation has been completed, a decision should be taken about returning the whip, but in the meantime, anyone subject to such an investigation should not be allowed to sit as a Conservative MP and represent the party in any capacity," they added.
"We understand the need for discretion where an allegation is being investigated by the police but would ask that you properly police your request for those involved in such investigations to stay away from Parliament, including not using the proxy votes in Party votes."
Johnson was not aware of “specific allegations” against Pincher before he was appointed back in February, Downing Street has said.
"I'm not aware of the Prime Minister being aware before any appointment,” the PM’s deputy spokesperson said.
"You'll be aware of the process that ministerial appointments go through and in the absence of any formal complaints, it was not appropriate to stop an appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations."
They added that ministerial appointments are vetted by the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team.
Downing Street has suggested Johnson considers the matter closed.
A spokesperson for the PM said Pincher is "no longer a minister”, adding: "He's resigned that position so I'm not aware of any sort of government investigation."
Pressed on whether the former deputy Chief Whip is under any form of probe, they said: "He's withdrawn his position as a minister, so I would have to point you to my political colleagues in terms of any sort of party investigations."
The spokesperson also said he "wouldn't agree with" the characterisation that Johnson does not take sexual assault claims seriously.
”The Prime Minister does think he's done the right thing in resigning and has accepted that resignation,” they added.
Pincher and the PM are understood to have "exchanged messages”, but Number 10 refused to give details of the "private" exchange, and although Pincher has written a letter Johnson is not expected to reciprocate.
The comments come after other Tory MPs called for tougher action while an investigation takes place, while Labour's Ellie Reeves said the party should not be allowed to "sweep this under the carpet".
"He still has the Conservative whip and I really hope that the Conservative Party aren't just going to sweep this under the carpet," she told Times Radio.
“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.”
In a resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Pincher said: “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.
“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.”
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