PM either “negligent or complicit” over Pincher allegations, Rayner says

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Angela Rayner has said Boris Johnson was either “negligent or complicit” over the sexual misconduct allegations made against Tory MP Chris Pincher.

Addressing the Commons today, Rayner said the government was “paralysed with scandal” and the resignation of the Prime Minister’s ethics adviser had left an “even bigger ethical vacuum in Downing Street”.

She declared that the one “common fault” with the system currently was the “power that’s granted by this Prime Minister,” telling MPs: “This constant charade will not wash. These latest disturbing allegations about the ministerial misconduct are all about abuse of power.”

Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip in a letter to Boris Johnson on Friday, saying that he “drank far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people” at the Conservative Party members’ club in London on Wednesday. He is alleged to have groped two men during the course of the evening.

Journalists were initially briefed on Friday that the Prime Minister did not know about “specific” allegations against Pincher. Rayner argued that Johnson’s defence had been “completely blown apart” by a letter published by crossbench peer Simon McDonald this morning.

The former Foreign Office civil servant wrote: “On 3 July, the BBC website reported: “No official complaints against [Mr Pincher] were ever made.” This is not true.

“In the summer of 2019, shortly after he was appointed minister of state at the Foreign Office, a group of officials complained to me about Mr Pincher’s behaviour.”

He said an investigation upheld the complaint and Pincher “apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour”. He added that Johnson was “briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation”.

McDonald concluded: “Mr Pincher deceived me and others in 2019. He cannot be allowed to use the confidentiality of the process three years ago to pursue his predatory behaviour in other contexts.”

In her statement to the Commons, Rayner said: “A minister of state at the Foreign Office has a deeply sensitive role in national security. Was this issue even raised or brought up in the vetting process and was the Prime Minister informed?

“And why was this conduct not considered a breach of the ministerial code? Why did the Prime Minister allow him to stay in post? This goes to the heart of wider issues here, Mr Speaker, and the public have had enough.”

She added: “The Prime Minister was personally informed about these allegations, and yet he was either negligent or complicit. What message, Mr Speaker, does this send about the standards of this government?”

Government minister Michael Ellis said the UK has a “sophisticated and robust system” for upholding public standards, based on the seven principles of public life – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

He claimed that “no system can replace the fundamental importance of personal responsibility” and argued that the “morally fair thing” to do was to assess the situation “based on evidence, not unsubstantiated rumour”.

Ellis said: “If there is no evidence at the time, if there’s no live complaint, no ongoing investigation, surely it is not unreasonable to consider making an appointment.”

He told MPs that the Prime Minister had been made aware of the previous allegations against Pincher in 2019 but that Johnson did not “immediately recall” the conversation when the new allegations emerged. He added: “As soon as he was reminded, the No 10 press office corrected their public lines.”

Tory backbencher William Wragg asked ministers to consider “if they can any longer tolerate being part of a government that, for better or worse, is widely regarded as having lost its sense of direction”.

Fellow Conservative MP John Penrose noted that the government had not been “honest” about the allegations made against Pincher and had previously been accused of a lack “leadership” in the Sue Gray report.

He asked Ellis: “How many more of the seven principles are they going to have to breach before my honourable friend will stand up and say enough is enough?”

Tory MP Caroline Johnson asked if the previous allegations against Pincher in 2019 were for sexual assault and if they were, “why the police weren’t involved, why he wasn’t sacked at the time, never mind given another job?”.

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