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Ex-Tory deputy chief whip may lose whip by end of day, Cabinet minister suggests

Chris Pincher (UK Parliament/PA)
Chris Pincher (UK Parliament/PA)

A Cabinet minister has suggested the former Tory deputy chief whip could be expelled from the Conservative Party by the end of Friday, after he dramatically quit following a drunken incident.

Chris Pincher, who was responsible for maintaining discipline among Conservative MPs, said he had “embarrassed myself and other people” after having had “far too much” to drink.

The Sun reported that he stood down after allegedly “groping” two male guests at the Carlton Club – a Tory Party private members’ club in London’s Piccadilly – on Wednesday evening.

Boris Johnson is under pressure to remove Mr Pincher from the party, but The Sun reported he would continue to sit as a Tory MP as he was considered to have done the right thing by admitting wrongdoing and resigning.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The Prime Minister was also facing questions about his own judgment, amid reports that he was warned about the wisdom of appointing Mr Pincher to such a sensitive post.

Welsh Secretary Simon Hart was on Friday unable to confirm whether the alleged assault was being formally investigated, as Labour demanded Mr Pincher have the whip suspended.

Mr Hart said it was “early days yet” and that from the perspective of the alleged victims, it could be “counter-productive” to rush any probe.

He said Conservative chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris would be having “conversations” throughout the day and that “we might be having a very different conversation as the day goes on”.

The Cabinet minister told Sky News: “This makes me very sad, it makes me sad for everybody who’s been involved in these things. It’s clearly something which has gone terribly wrong.

“There is a process, I think it’s important that the process is followed.”

He added: “I think it is entirely right that the chief whip and others take a view today about what is the appropriate course of action.

“Of course, if there are those who are victims of this or who wish to raise complaint, they can do so.”

Asked whether he believed Mr Pincher should lose the whip, Mr Hart said he knew “what he would like to see happen” but that the decision was not down to him.

Chris Pincher (right) and chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris leave Downing Street following their appointments
Chris Pincher, right, and chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris leave Downing Street following their appointments (Aaron Chown/PA)

“Let’s let today play out, let the chief whip do his duty today, and then I think we might be having a very different conversation as the day goes on.”

He also said: “This is not the first time, I fear it possibly won’t be the last. This happens in workplaces from time to time.”

Labour said the incident showed the Tory Party was “mired in sleaze and scandal” and questioned how Mr Pincher could still be allowed to take the Conservative whip given what had happened.

In May, the Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton Neil Parish resigned his Commons seat altogether after he admitted watching pornography in the Commons chamber.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Mr Pincher should have the whip suspended while a full investigation is carried out.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “These allegations are really serious. This is about sexual assault…

“So, the idea that the response that we’ve seen that the Prime Minister thinks he’s done the decent thing by resigning and there’s no need for an investigation, well, that’s a total disgrace.

“The whip’s office are responsible for discipline and standards among Conservative MPs. Boris Johnson chose this MP to be deputy chief whip because he was a friend and ally, despite the fact that he had to resign five years ago from the whip’s office due to similar sounding allegations.”

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said Mr Pincher should have the whip withdrawn while a full investigation was carried out.

“Given the seriousness of these allegations, it’s difficult to see how Chris Pincher can continue as an MP,” she said.

“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.”

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Pincher apologised for his behaviour, saying it had been “the honour of my life” to have served in the Government.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said the force has not received any reports of assault at the Carlton Club on Wednesday.

Mr Pincher’s departure in such dramatic circumstances is a further blow for the Prime Minister, who has been beset with allegations of misconduct over lockdown parties in Downing Street.

The Tamworth MP was appointed alongside chief whip Mr Heaton-Harris in February to shore up support for the Prime Minister amid growing unrest among Tory MPs over the “partygate” disclosures.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson boarding a plane as he leaves the Nato summit in Madrid
Boris Johnson, leaving the Nato summit in Madrid, is facing calls to expel Mr Pincher from the Tory Party (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It is the second time Mr Pincher has quit the whips office, having 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.

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

When Mr Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019, he was moved to the Foreign Office as minister for Europe and the Americas before returning to the whips office for a third time.

His departure comes just days after Oliver Dowden quit as party co-chairman in the wake of the Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton by-election losses.

It leaves Mr Johnson, who returned from the Nato summit on Thursday after nine days out of the country, with another headache with two crucial roles to fill.