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How handling of club incident escalated into PM’s worst leadership crisis

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, London. Picture date: Tuesday July 5, 2022.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, London. Picture date: Tuesday July 5, 2022.

A defiant Boris Johnson is refusing to leave Downing Street despite haemorrhaging support across the Tory ranks in the wake of the Chris Pincher scandal.

But a dramatic wave of Government resignations over 24 hours and a slew of former allies withdrawing their backing has put the future of his leadership in grave doubt.

Pressure on him to quit reached boiling point on Wednesday, when a delegation of cabinet ministers, understood to include some of his long-standing allies, were meeting him to urge his resignation.

The fresh mutiny comes in the wake of the Prime Minister’s handling of allegations made against former deputy chief whip Mr Pincher.

Here is a timeline of the events that led up to Wednesday’s crisis after reports of the claims against Mr Pincher first emerged:

– June 29 2022

Mr Pincher allegedly behaved inappropriately while drunk on Wednesday night at the Carlton Club, a Tory private members’ club in London.

– June 30 2022

Mr Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip as The Sun reported the allegations against him relating to the evening before.

– July 1 2022

The Prime Minister bowed to pressure in the face of an outcry over his delay in suspending the whip against Mr Pincher following the allegations.

The move came amid further claims being levelled against Mr Pincher, as well as an investigation being launched into a complaint about his behaviour.

Downing Street claimed Mr Johnson was not aware of “specific allegations” against Mr Pincher before appointing him deputy chief whip.

Chris Pincher resignation
Undated handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Chris Pincher.

– July 2 2022

Mr Johnson was under growing pressure to explain what he knew of the claims before appointing Mr Pincher to the whips’ office.

The Prime Minister was alleged to have referred to the former deputy chief whip as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” before appointing him to the role in February.

Mr Pincher claimed he is seeking “medical support” after getting too drunk, “embarrassing” himself and other people.

– July 3 2022

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey was dispatched to defend the Prime Minister on the morning media round, doubling down on the line that he did not know “specific claims” about the MP.

Fresh allegations emerge in numerous papers about Mr Pincher’s alleged behaviour, with Mr Pincher’s lawyers denying allegations to the newspapers that carried them.

– July 4 2022

Downing Street confirmed Mr Johnson was aware of concerns about the conduct of Chris Pincher when he made him deputy chief whip.

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson conceded he had known of “speculation” surrounding the MP, but “no formal complaint at that time”.

– July 5 2022

7.30am: That line was dramatically upended when Lord Simon McDonald, former permanent secretary in the Foreign Office, publishes a bombshell letter claiming Mr Johnson was briefed “in person” about a formal complaint.

Dominic Raab’s morning media round was derailed by the statement, which came minutes after the Deputy Prime Minister claimed he did not believe there was any reason Mr Johnson would have been told.

12.30pm: Labour was granted an urgent question in Parliament to address the growing scandal over the past behaviour of Mr Pincher and what the Prime Minister knew about the allegations.

Tory MPs lined up in the House of Commons to publicly condemn Mr Johnson’s handling of the affair, with senior figures urging ministers to consider their positions.

1pm: Mr Johnson failed to remember he had been told that Mr Pincher was the subject of a official complaint about his conduct, Downing Street said.

A trickle of Tory backbenchers began publicly calling for Mr Johnson’s resignation, including Anthony Mangnall and Nick Gibb.

Shortly before 6pm: The Prime Minister was forced into a humiliating apology over his handling of the scandal and admitted it was a “mistake” to appoint Mr Pincher to his former role

6.02pm: Sajid Javid resigned from his post as Health Secretary, saying in a letter to the Prime Minister posted on Twitter that the British people “rightly expect integrity from their Government.”

6.11pm: Former Chancellor Rishi Sunak quickly followed suit, citing the public right to expect Government to be conducted “properly, competently and seriously.”

Boris Johnson visit to hospital
(left to right) Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak look at a CT scanner during a visit to the New Queen Elizabeth II Hospital, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Picture date: Wednesday April 6, 2022.

A steady stream of resignations followed from elsewhere in Government throughout the evening, while former allies also publicly spoke out against Mr Johnson.

Sir Keir Starmer called for a general election while the Prime Minister returned to Downing Street to attempt damage control.

9.40pm: Mr Johnson appointed Nadhim Zahawi to fill Mr Sunak’s post, promoted former Universities Minister Michelle Donelan to Education Secretary and made Steve Barclay Health Secretary in a bid to revive his cabinet.

– July 6 2022

The national mastheads painted a grim picture for the Prime Minister, with The Times’ leader saying it would be a “mistake” for him to continue to cling to power.

In the Daily Telegraph, former Brexit minister Lord David Frost added his voice to the chorus of senior figures calling on Mr Johnson to quit, saying he should leave before he takes the Conservative Party “down with him”.

The new Chancellor insisted the new Government will be able to “deliver” and said he believes Mr Johnson has integrity on the morning media rounds.

8.25am: Will Quince became the first in a long line of ministers to resign on Wednesday while backbenchers including Lee Anderson, the previously loyalist MP for Ashfield, and Robert Halfon publicly withdraw their support for the Prime Minister.

12pm: Mr Johnson defied calls to resign during PMQs despite signs that Tory support was ebbing away, citing his “colossal mandate” in 2019 and vowing to “keep going.”

Downing Street turmoil
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps leaves 10 Downing Street, London, following the resignation of two senior cabinet ministers on Tuesday. Picture date: Wednesday July 6, 2022.

Sir Keir branded it a “pathetic spectacle” before new backbencher Mr Javid stood up to deliver a damning resignation speech telling MPs he quit after concluding “enough is enough”.

2.25pm: In a joint letter, ministers Kemi Badenoch, Julia Lopez, Mims Davies, Lee Rowley, Neil O’Brien and Alex Burghart announced their resignations and called on the Prime Minister to go.

2.40pm: The Daily Mail reported that cabinet minister Michael Gove told the Prime Minister he must step down.

3pm: The Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee answering questions about his handling of the Pincher affair.

He batted away calls for a general election, suggesting instead Tory MPs should be “loving each other as Conservatives”.

A delegation of ministers, reportedly including some his long-standing allies, was meeting with Mr Johnson urging him to resign later in the evening.

Home Secretary Priti Patel and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who was key to the Prime Minister’s fight for survival during partygate, were said to be among those calling on him to quit, it is understood.

Sir Graham Brady was thought to have visited Downing Street to communicate the views of backbenchers following a session of the 1922 committee.

The committee’s executive did not make any immediate changes to the rules on Wednesday, but has scheduled elections for its executive committee to take place on Monday, before a result later that evening.

8.15pm: Mr Johnson rejected calls for his resignation after meeting with ministers, said to include Priti Patel, Grant Shapps, Kwasi Kwarteng, Brandon Lewis and Simon Hart in No 10.