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Dominic Raab was this morning ambushed in a TV interview with claims Boris Johnson had been told ‘in person’ about a past ‘formal complaint’ concerning shamed MP Chris Pincher.
The Deputy Prime Minister faced a grilling on BBC Breakfast after former top civil servant, Simon McDonald, hit out at Number 10’s handling of the latest Westminster sleaze scandal.
Mr Pincher last week resigned as Tory deputy chief whip following claims he drunkenly groped two men.
He has now also been suspended as a Conservative MP, while a slew of further allegations have emerged against the 52-year-old spanning several years.
The latest row has threatened to imperil Boris Johnson’s political future yet again, with questions being asked about what the Prime Minister knew of Mr Pincher’s conduct before handing him a top role.
Downing Street has insisted the PM was not aware of ‘specific allegations being looked at’ concerning Mr Pincher, but admitted Mr Johnson knew of ‘media reports’ and ‘some allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal comlaint’.
No10 also stressed the PM took advice on naming Mr Pincher as deputy chief whip in February, but found it was ‘not appropriate’ to block the appointment because of ‘unsubstantiated allegations’.
Lord McDonald gave critics of Mr Johnson further ammunition today when he wrote to a parliamentary watchdog to detail how the PM was told ‘in person’ about a ‘formal complaint’ concerning Mr Pincher in the summer of 2019.
In a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, he wrote: ‘The original No10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate.
‘Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation.
‘There was a “formal complaint”. Allegations were “resolved” only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr Pincher was not exonerated.
‘To characterise the allegations as “unsubstantiated” is therefore wrong.’
Soon after Lord McDonald published his letter on Twitter, Mr Raab was quizzed about the crossbench peer’s claims as he continued his round of TV and radio interviews this morning.
The Deputy PM had earlier revealed he ‘spoke to’ shamed MP Chris Pincher ‘in no uncertain terms’ when a past complaint was made about his behaviour.
Mr Raab admitted he had been forced to look into an allegation of inappropriate conduct about Mr Pincher in October 2019.
But he insisted the matter was found not to warrant any formal action as Mr Raab defended Mr Pincher as an ‘exceptional’ minister.
Tory rebel MPs, who last month attempted to use a no confidence vote to oust Mr Johnson from Number 10, have been emboldened to launch another effort to get rid of the PM in the wake of the fresh sleaze row.
But, with MPs due to go on their summer break later this month, Mr Johnson is set to be safe from another widespread revolt until the autumn.
The PM will chair a Cabinet meeting this morning after being stung by a backlash from among his top ministers over his handling of the Pincher row.
It follows claims that Mr Johnson joked about ‘handsy’ Mr Pincher being ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’.
Mr Johnson will use today’s meeting to focus on the cost-of-living crisis causing misery for struggling Britons.
The PM will herald changes to the National Insurance thresholds – due to come into effect tomorrow – as ‘the single biggest tax cut in a decade’.
Dominic Raab admitted he had been forced to look into an allegation of inappropriate conduct about Chris Pincher in October 2019
Questions are being asked about what the Prime Minister knew of Chris Pincher’s conduct before handing him a top role
It will be Mr Johnson’s latest attempt to move on from the fresh Tory sleaze row that broke out on his return to Britain last week after a nine-day stretch away from Westminster to attend Commonwealth, G7 and NATO summits.
It meant Mr Johnson escaped the fall-out from two bruising by-elections defeats.
But the PM returned to the UK at the end of last week to even more domestic strife with the resignation of Mr Pincher as Tory deputy chief whip.
It followed claims the MP drunkenly groped two men at an elite Conservative members’ club.
In his first appearance before the House of Commons since 22nd June, Mr Johnson yesterday steered clear of renewed questions over his leadership in the wake of the latest scandal.
Instead, the PM told MPs of his determination to continue the UK’s support for Ukraine.
Mr Johnson also reiterated a pledge on defence spending and outlined his continuing ambition to strike post-Brexit deals with non-EU countries.
The Prime Minister recently spent nine days away from Westminister as he attended Commonwealth, G7 and NATO summits
The PM told the Commons that Ukraine must prevail against Russia’s invasion otherwise Vladimir Putin will ‘find new targets for his revanchist attacks’.
He detailed how the G7 summit in Germany had seen the world’s leading democracies pledge nearly 30 billion dollars of financial support to Ukraine this year.
Mr Johnson also confirmed the Government’s intent to ban the import of Russian gold – previously a top revenue-raiser for the country’s economy.
And he spoke of onging international efforts to extract around 25 million tonnes of grain from Ukraine in the face of Russia’s blockade in the Black Sea.
The PM suggested the G7 is looking at the possibility of using the Danube river through central Europe – as well as railways – to get the crop out of Ukraine in ‘smaller quantities’.
At last week’s NATO summit, Mr Johnson announced the UK would be spending 2.5 per cent of GDP on defence by the end of the decade.
He reiterated that pledge today, although MPs will be concerned that the PM appeared to lessen the promise to a ‘prediction’ or ‘protraction’ of inceased defence spending under the terms of recent international commitments.
‘These are gigantic commitments. I think they’re the right thing for the UK. They will take us up to that threshold,’ Mr Johnson said.
‘Of course much depends on the size of our GDP at the time. Much depends on the growth in the economy.
‘I think we’re going to pay for it out of steady and sustained economic growth.’
The PM told MPs that the recent Commonwealth summit in Rwanda had allowed him to ‘counter the myths’ about Russia’s actions in Ukraine and ‘point out that food prices are rising because Putin has blockaded one of the world’s biggest food producers’.
There are concerns within Whitehall at Moscow’s attempts to convince African countries seeing disruption to their food supplies that they are the result of Western sanctions on Russia, rather than Mr Putin’s war.
Mr Johnson also outlined how post-Brexit freedoms were allowing the UK to ‘sign free trade or economic partnership agreements with as many Commonwealth countries as possible’.
And he repeated his aim of striking a trade agreement with India by the time of the Diwali festival in October.
Boris Johnson this afternoon steered clear of renewed questions over his leadership in the wake of the latest scandal
Earlier today, amid growing pressure over the new Tory sleaze row, Downing Street admitted that Mr Johnson was aware of claims about Mr Pincher before appointing him as Tory deputy chief whip in February.
Following Mr Pincher’s resignation from that role, a slew of fresh allegations have since emerged against the 52-year-old.
Questions are now being asked about what Mr Johnson knew of Mr Pincher’s conduct prior to appointing him to the key role in charge of party discipline in February.
It has even been claimed Mr Johnson referred to the Tamworth MP as being ‘handsy’ and joked he was ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’ before making him a senior whip.
The PM’s official spokesman today insisted Mr Johnson was ‘not aware of any specific allegations being looked at’ and pointed to how Mr Pincher had previously already served in Government under Theresa May.
But the spokesman also admitted that the PM was ‘aware of media reports that others had seen over the years and some allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint’.
‘He did take advice on some of the allegations that had been made, but there was no formal complaint at that time and it was deemed not appropriate to stop an appointment simply because of unsubstantiated allegations,’ they added.
The spokesman did not deny the claims – made by the PM’s estranged former chief adviser Dominic Cummings – that Mr Johnson had previously joked about Mr Pincher’s reputation.
‘I’m simply not going to comment on content of what was or wasn’t said in private conversations,’ they said.
Asked if Mr Johnson regretted appointing Mr Pincher as deputy chief whip, the PM’s spokesman said: ‘Clearly, we wouldn’t want anyone working in the Government to behave in the manner as he is alleged to have done so.
‘That is not the behaviour that you’d want to see in any walk of life.’
Boris Johnson is under pressure over his decision to appoint Chris Pincher as the Conservative deputy chief whip in February
The fresh sleaze scandal has emboldened Tory rebels in their plot to oust the Prime Minister from 10 Downing Street
Mr Pincher last week resigned as deputy chief whip after he admitted ’embarrassing himself and others’ after drinking ‘far too much’ at the Carlton Club, a posh London watering hole popular with Conservatives
Can Boris face another Tory confidence vote?
Haven’t we just had a Tory confidence vote?
Yes. After 15 per cent of Conservative MPs wrote to backbench 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady, he triggered a vote last month.
The PM won, but 148 of his 359 MPs backed kicking him out in the secret ballot.
Mr Johnson and his allies hailed that as a clear victory and urged the party to unite behind him.
Can MPs just call another vote?
In theory, party rules mean that because Mr Johnson secured 50 per cent of the vote he cannot be challenged again for 12 months.
But notably Theresa May also won a confidence battle, and was later threatened with a rule change to enable her to face another vote – forcing her to resign.
Are they likely to change the rules?
Some of the PM’s leading critics have warned against ‘tinkering’ with Tory leadership rules to oust Mr Johnson.
But upcoming elections to the executive of the 1922 Committee – expected next week – are becoming a key battle between Tory rebels and Johnson loyalists.
If the rebels win a majority of the 18 positions up for grabs, they could push through their attempt to change party rules.
And, since last month’s no confidence vote, opinion against Mr Johnson has hardened among some MPs following the two bruising by-election defeats in Wakefield and Tiverton and Honiton.
The PM is now also having to face another Tory sleaze scandal.
Is there any other way for the leader to be evicted?
Mr Johnson has defiantly insisted he will not entertain the ‘crazy’ idea of resigning.
And – barring the Opposition winning a vote of no confidence in the House – there is no formal mechanism to get rid of him before the next general election.
However, a withdrawal of support by the Cabinet would make his position untenable.
What happens if the leader is ousted?
The leader is sacked if they lose a Tory confidence vote, and a leadership contest begins in which they cannot stand. Resignation would also trigger a contest.
However, the outgoing chief typically stays on as Prime Minister until a replacement is chosen.
Are there any other big moments coming up that could fuel the Tory revolt?
The cross-party Privileges Committee is about to kick off an inquiry into whether Mr Johnson misled the House over Partygate.
It is expected to report in the Autumn, when the PM will also have to run the gauntlet of Tory conference.
The PM is facing the fresh Tory sleaze scandal – which has caused a Cabinet backlash – just ahead of what could prove to be critical internal elections within the Conservative Party.
Tory MPs are next week set to decide on key positions on the powerful 1922 Committee – which are now being seen as a proxy vote on Mr Johnson’s future, amid plans to change party rules to allow another no confidence ballot on the PM’s leadership.
But Mr Johnson, who will face the House of Commons for the first time this afternoon after his recent nine-day foreign trip, will be expected to hit back against the continued plotting by Tory rebels.
The PM is due to report back this afernoon to MPs on his attendance at last week’s Commonwealth, G7 and NATO summits – in which he will be keen to stress the role he is playing in international efforts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and in support ing Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.
The upcoming contest for places on the 1922 Committee’s executive has led to a battle between rebel MPs and those loyal to Mr Johnson to fill those 18 positions.
When the PM won last month’s no confidence vote over his leadership he was granted 12 months immunity from having to face another contest.
But there are rebel plans to change that rule and allow Mr Johnson to face a fresh vote if they win a majority on the 1922 executive.
One rebel told The Times the row over Mr Pincher had ‘100 per cent’ strengthened the campaign to oust the PM.
Another added: ‘It has certainly sharpened minds to act because it all goes back to the Prime Minister.’
The newspaper reported that one plan by Tory rebels was to change the party’s rules to allow a new no confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership if 90 MPs – 25 per cent of the parliamentary party – submit letters to 1922 chair Sir Graham Brady.
The plan is being portrayed as a ‘compromise proposal’ as it increases the threshold from 15 per cent – 54 MPs – that triggered last month’s vote.
Will Quince, the children and families minister, this morning dimissed the claim by Mr Cummings that Mr Johnson previously joked about Mr Pincher being ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’.
He told LBC Radio: ‘I think that quote came from Dominic Cummings, who’s not someone who I give a huge amount of credibility to, given past experience.’
In a series of TV and radio interviews, Mr Quince said he had been given ‘categorical assurance’ that Mr Johnson was ‘not aware of any serious specific allegation’ about Mr Pincher before appointing him as deputy chief whip.
He also denied claims that junior ministers such as himself were having to face media interviews about the ‘indefensible’ allegations about Mr Pincher, due to Cabinet ministers refusing to go on the airwaves.
He told Sky News: ‘I’m certainly not going to defend the former deputy chief whip.
‘The allegations are incredibly serious and I’m appalled by them.
‘But that isn’t the case today, because I was booked in four days ago, in fact five days ago I think it was, to talk about a very important childcare announcement.’
Mr Pincher last week resigned as deputy chief whip after he admitted ’embarrassing himself and others’ after drinking ‘far too much’ at the Carlton Club, a posh London watering hole popular with Conservatives.
He has referred himself for ‘professional medical support’ and vowed to ‘cooperate fully’ with a parliamentary investigation into his actions.
But the MP, who will now sit as an independent after having the Tory whip suspended, has denied other allegations to have emerged against him.
Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds has written to the PM demanding to know what Downing Street knew of allegations about Mr Pincher before his second appointment as a Tory whip.
The Tamworth MP had previously resigned from the whips’ office in 2017 after being implicated in the ‘Pestminster’ sleaze scandal after being accused of making an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower and Conservative activist Alex Story.
But Mr Pincher was later cleared by an investigation.
‘Only Boris Johnson could have looked at this guy’s record and thought “he deserves a promotion”,’ Ms Dodds said.
‘This PM is clearly happy to sweep sexual misconduct under the carpet in order to save his own skin.’
What are the claims facing Chris Pincher?
Chris Pincher resigned as Tory deputy chief whip after he last week admitted he ‘drank far too much’ and ’embarrassed myself and other people’.
It followed claims he had drunkenly groped two men at the Carlton Club, the Conservative Party members’ club in London on Wednesday night.
The Tamworth MP has vowed to ‘cooperate fully’ with an official investigation by a parliamentary watchdog.
But a slew of other allegations have also now emerged about Mr Pincher, which he denies, including:
– In an incident around 2012, a man in his early 20s said he received unwanted sexual attention from Mr Pincher at an event in London
– A former parliamentary researcher has told how Mr Pincher threatened to report her to her boss when she tried to block his pestering of a young man at Conservative Party conference in 2013
– Another alleged incident in 2013 involving a young man who had passed out in Mr Pincher’s London flat. It is claimed he woke up with the politician on top of him
– A 2017 incident in which Mr Pincher is claimed to have put his hand on another MP’s inner thigh.
– A charity fundraiser claimed that Mr Pincher groped his thigh and bottom as they posed for a photo in 2018
– A young Tory activist has alleged the MP massaged his shoulders and attempted to undo his shirt at a private property in 2019
– A claim that Mr Pincher made a unwanted advance to a young Tory member at the party’s conference in 2019, while describing how he could help his political career
– An alleged unwanted advance made by the MP toward a young Tory activist at the party’s 2021 conference
– A young Tory activist has claimed he was ‘touched up’ by Mr Pincher in a car in 2021