Boris Johnson facing Cabinet backlash over Chris Pincher sex pest allegations

·5 min read
Tory ministers have expressed dismay at having to publicly answer questions about what Boris Johnson knew about allegations of sexual impropriety by Chris Pincher - Getty Images
Tory ministers have expressed dismay at having to publicly answer questions about what Boris Johnson knew about allegations of sexual impropriety by Chris Pincher - Getty Images

Boris Johnson is facing a Cabinet backlash over his handling of allegations against Chris Pincher, amid anger among ministers at being asked to defend the affair.

Speaking to The Telegraph on Sunday night, sources close to three Cabinet ministers criticised the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint Mr Pincher to the role of deputy chief whip and expressed dismay at having to publicly answer questions about what Mr Johnson knew about claims of sexual impropriety.

Comparing the situation to the sleaze scandals that dogged the latter years of the Major government, one said: “It just increases the feeling that we are in late John Major-era territory even more – when you are trying to appease people, you are more inclined to turn blind eye to bad behaviour.”

They added that Mr Johnson was in the “completely invidious position” of trying to placate his allies because he did not want to “lose their support”.

The source added that: “My understanding from ministers is there is a lot of anger in the parliamentary party at both the handling of Pincher and also these subsequent revelations – the guy had to quit before over the exact same issue. Someone, the whip, should have reported him to the AA, not promoted him into the whips’ office.”

Several Tory MPs are also understood to have demanded that the Prime Minister make clear that Chris Pincher should resign from Parliament - Aaron Chown
Several Tory MPs are also understood to have demanded that the Prime Minister make clear that Chris Pincher should resign from Parliament - Aaron Chown

A second Cabinet source said defending the Prime Minister’s handling of the allegations against Mr Pincher was “soul destroying”, while a third said it was “a bit like getting punched in the face”.

One told The Telegraph that it was likely that junior ministers would be “wheeled out” on broadcast interviews as their more senior Cabinet colleagues were likely to try to “pull rank” and refuse to go on the airwaves.

“Most have done their fair share of excruciating interviews already – you might discover more with dentist appointments or bereavements this week,” they said.

Several Tory MPs are also understood to have contacted the Whips’ Office demanding that the Prime Minister make clear that Mr Pincher should resign from Parliament, and asking them to guarantee that they will not reinstate the whip.

“I think most of us messaged demanding he lose the whip,” one backbencher said. “Many of us have said he should resign altogether, immediately.”

The Prime Minister is under mounting pressure to explain how much he knew about claims against Mr Pincher before appointing him as deputy chief whip in February.

Over the weekend, six new allegations emerged about the MP, who resigned from his government role on Thursday following claims he groped two men at a private members’ club in London.

Mr Johnson will on Wednesday face questions from the liaison committee of senior MPs, who are expected to ask him about the handling of the latest allegations against Mr Pincher, and about his appointment to the Whips’ Office.

Also on Wednesday, in a new threat to the Prime Minister’s leadership, elections for the executive of the 1922 committee of backbenchers will get under way. If Tory rebels are voted in, they could change the rules that currently prevent another no -confidence vote taking place for 12 months.

The anger amongst Cabinet ministers comes after Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, on Sunday endured a series of uncomfortable television interviews about the Prime Minister’s knowledge of Mr Pincher’s conduct.

Therese Coffey endured a series of uncomfortable television interviews about the Prime Minister’s knowledge of Mr Pincher’s conduct - JEFF OVERS/BBC
Therese Coffey endured a series of uncomfortable television interviews about the Prime Minister’s knowledge of Mr Pincher’s conduct - JEFF OVERS/BBC

In one, she admitted she had not spoken to Mr Johnson himself about his handling of Mr Pincher’s case but had spoken to “somebody from the No 10 press office”.

On Monday morning, Will Quince, a junior minister, was expected to go on air to discuss the Department for Education’s (DfE) childcare policies, while Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, is on a school visit. Officials at the DfE said it had long been the plan for Mr Quince to appear.

It comes as Anneliese Dodds, the Labour Party chairman, has written to the Prime Minister demanding to know what Downing Street knew of the allegations before Mr Pincher’s second appointment as a whip.

“The British people deserve to know why Mr Pincher was appointed as the deputy chief whip when he has a history of alleged inappropriate sexual behaviour,” she said.

Mr Pincher – who has said he will accept “medical support” but does not intend to quit as an MP – came under further pressure to step aside in the wake of several new allegations about his conduct over the weekend.

These included reports in the Independent that he groped an unnamed male Conservative MP twice in the past eight months, and Mail on Sunday claims about his behaviour a decade ago as well as at last year’s Conservative Party conference.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Times reported Mr Pincher had touched the inner leg of a male Tory MP in 2017, made unwanted advances towards a second colleague in 2018, and was inappropriate towards a local party activist in 2019.

Mr Pincher has denied all the allegations and did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday night.