Boris Johnson Knew About Chris Pincher Probe, Downing Street Confirms

Boris Johnson Knew About Chris Pincher Probe, Downing Street Confirms
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, London on July 4, 2022. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Media)
Lily Zhou
7/5/2022
Updated:
7/5/2022

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was briefed about a formal investigation against Chris Pincher in 2019 when Pincher was a Foreign Office minister, Downing Street confirmed on Tuesday.

It comes after a former top civil servant questioned the accuracy of previous statements from Downing Street about Johnson’s awareness of a formal complaint against Pincher.

Pincher, MP for Tamworth, resigned from the whips office and had his Conservative Party membership suspended last week over the alleged groping of two male guests at a Conservative Party private members’ club on June 29.

The allegations have put Downing Street under pressure to explain why Pincher, who had resigned as a junior whip in November 2017 following a complaint that he made an unwanted pass at the former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story, was given the job of deputy chief whip in February this year.

Pincher was first brought back by Theresa May as deputy chief whip in January 2018 after he referred himself to both the police and the Conservative Party complaints procedure.

When Johnson became prime minister in July 2019, Pincher was moved to the Foreign Office as minister for Europe and the Americas before returning to the whips office for a third time in February 2022.

Chris Pincher, then minister of state in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, pictured in Downing Street, London, on Feb. 8, 2022. (Aaron Chown /PA Media)
Chris Pincher, then minister of state in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, pictured in Downing Street, London, on Feb. 8, 2022. (Aaron Chown /PA Media)

A spokesperson for Downing Street said on Friday that he was “not aware of the prime minister being aware” of specific allegations against Pincher before appointing him. He also said it would not have been appropriate for Johnson to block Pincher’s appointment “on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations” without “any formal complaints” against him.

On Monday, Downing Street changed its line, with a spokesperson saying Johnson was aware of “allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”

The spokesperson said Johnson “did take advice on some of the allegations that had been made,” but maintained that “there was no formal complaint at that time and it was deemed not appropriate to stop an appointment simply because of unsubstantiated allegations.”

Lord McDonald: No 10 Needs to ‘Come Clean’

But Lord Simon McDonald, the then-Foreign Office permanent under-secretary who commissioned an investigation into an allegation against Pincher in 2019 when he was in the Foreign Office, said on Tuesday that the complaint was upheld.

He also said he had briefed a relevant senior official in the Cabinet Office about the investigation, and the official had told him that Johnson was briefed in person.

McDonald made the revelation in a letter he sent to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone. He also published the letter on Twitter.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme on Tuesday morning, the retired civil servant said he believed Downing Street needed to come clean.

“I think that the language is ambiguous, the sort of telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time and hoping that people are not too forensic in their subsequent questioning and I think that is not working,” he said.

McDonald said he disputed “the use of the word ’resolved,'” which “sounds as though a happy and agreed conclusion was reached.”

Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing street in central London on May 28, 2020. (Niklas Halle'n/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab arrives in Downing street in central London on May 28, 2020. (Niklas Halle'n/AFP via Getty Images)

Then-Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab gave a different account of the events, saying the investigation into “inappropriate conduct” concluded that disciplinary action was not warranted and that he and McDonald both told Pincher to never repeat the conduct.

Raab also said he had “referred the matter to the Cabinet Office ethics and propriety team who looked at it and they confirmed there wasn’t a case for proceeding under the Ministerial Code.”

Downing Street: Johnson Forgot About the Briefing

Johnson’s official spokesman confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that the prime minister was briefed “about the complaint relating to Mr. Pincher in the Foreign Office which was resolved,” adding that he thought the prime minister was told by “someone in the Cabinet Office” and that had been “a number of months” after the complaint was investigated.

He also said that it took some time to establish the fact that Johnson was briefed.

“At the time last week that was the prime minister’s view. You will appreciate it takes some time to establish he was briefed, albeit we don’t think in formal briefing on this,” the spokesman said.

“This dates back a number of years. On Friday, it was our belief that he was not informed about that specific incident.”

The spokesman said that he had updated reporters on Monday after more information became available but had not at that point been able to refer to the complaint at the Foreign Office.

“The Prime Minister at the time when he offered the job was not aware of any new specific allegations that were being looked at,” the spokesman said.

“As I clarified yesterday, he was aware of both media speculation and an allegation that was resolved. That was the fullest picture we had yesterday which we sought to set out. This information does take time to establish.

“It was not raised as a disciplinary issue or anything related to the Ministerial Code and the prime minister was informed but not asked to take any action.”

Asked if Johnson regretted appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip, the spokesman said: “The prime minister wouldn’t want to see this sort of behaviour from any of his ministers. It’s not what you would want to see from anyone in public life.”

PA Media contributed to this report.
Lily Zhou is an Irish-based reporter covering UK news for The Epoch Times.
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