Chris Pincher, the former deputy Tory chief whip accused of drunkenly assaulting two men at an exclusive private members’ club, was suspended from the British Conservative party on Friday pending an investigation.
After a day of mounting pressure from senior Tory and opposition MPs, prime minister Boris Johnson was forced to remove the party whip from Mr Pincher, a close ally, because of an alleged incident on Wednesday at the Carlton Club, a central London venue closely associated with the party.
A spokesperson for Chris Heaton-Harris, the Conservative party chief whip, said Mr Pincher had been suspended after a complaint about his behaviour had been made to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS). The allegations will now be investigated independently from the Conservative party. The ICGS can recommend further action against any MP.
Mr Pincher resigned from the government on Thursday evening after admitting he had “embarrassed myself and other people” after having had “far too much” to drink. Mr Johnson initially resisted suspending Pincher after his allies suggested that he had “done the right thing” by admitting to misconduct and quitting as deputy chief whip.
But two senior Conservative MPs called for Mr Pincher to be suspended from the party. Former ministers Caroline Nokes, chair of the House of Commons women and equalities select committee, and Karen Bradley, chair of the Commons procedure committee, called for “a policy of zero tolerance” on sexual misconduct.
In a letter to Mr Heaton-Harris, the MPs called for a “thorough investigation”, adding: “Anyone subject to such an investigation should not be allowed to sit as a Conservative MP and represent the party in any capacity.”
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said the prime minister had been “dragged kicking and screaming into taking any action at all”. She added of Mr Johnson: “he just can’t be trusted to do the right thing. This whole scandal is yet more evidence of his appalling judgment.”
Senior Tories also criticised the prime minister for failing to act decisively against Mr Pincher earlier. “Once again Boris was trying to defend one of his close allies against the indefensible. It was obvious to everyone he should have been suspended as soon as he resigned from the whips’ office,” one minister said.
If the investigation leads to Mr Pincher being suspended from the House of Commons, he could face a recall petition, triggering a byelection in his constituency of Tamworth in Staffordshire, where he secured a 19,634 majority over Labour at the 2019 election. At least 10 per cent of his constituents would need to sign a petition to call for a vote.
Mr Pincher’s suspension follows a string of so-called sleaze allegations that have undermined Mr Johnson’s government in recent months. Neil Parish was forced to stand down as the MP for Tiverton and Honiton in April after he admitted to watching pornography in the House of Commons.
Mr Parish on Friday criticised the party for “double standards” after it failed to immediately remove the whip from Mr Pincher.
The Tory MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad Khan, was convicted for the sexual assault of a teenage boy last month and also forced to quit. The party lost both ensuing byelections following a backlash from voters.
Mr Pincher was appointed to the post of deputy chief whip this year as part of an effort to shore up Mr Johnson’s position as prime minister, and he was a key part of efforts to stave off a leadership challenge. According to the Sun newspaper, which first broke the story, Mr Pincher allegedly assaulted two guests on Wednesday evening following heavy drinking. The 52-year-old was previously forced to resign as an assistant whip in 2017 after a former Tory candidate alleged he had made unwanted advances. Following an internal party probe, Mr Pincher was cleared of wrongdoing and in 2018 rejoined the government, then led by Theresa May, as deputy chief whip. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2022