Did Boris Johnson know about the allegations against senior MP Chris Pincher when he appointed him as his party’s deputy chief whip?
The government’s answer to that question appears to be changing as the days go by.
Mr Pincher has been suspended by the Conservatives and resigned from his role after being accused of sexual misconduct.
The prime minister and Downing Street are facing claims they have been less than forthcoming about how much they knew about his behaviour.
Opposition parties say Mr Johnson is again “dragging British democracy through the muck”.
Who is Chris Pincher?
Chris Pincher has been the MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire since 2010.
He served as a government minister under former Prime Minister Theresa May and was a minister in the Foreign Office and the Levelling Up Department after Boris Johnson took the helm.
He was then appointed deputy chief whip of the Conservatives by Mr Johnson in February 2022.
Whips are MPs who are in charge of party discipline and are tasked with ensuring colleagues vote on party lines in parliament, as well as providing pastoral care.
He was a previous government whip between June and November 2017, and assistant government whip from July 2016 to June 2017.
Why is he in the news?
Mr Pincher is alleged to have groped two men in the Carlton Club, the Conservative Party’s members’ club in St James’s in central London, on Wednesday 30 June.
On the back of this he resigned as the deputy chief whip, saying he had “drunk far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people”.
Downing Street said he would face no further action because he had “done the right thing” in resigning from the whips’ office.
However, a formal complaint was then lodged with the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, the parliament’s behaviour watchdog.
Boris Johnson then agreed Mr Pincher should be suspended as a Conservative MP.
He now sits as an independent MP.
What happened next?
On the weekend that followed, six new claims of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Pincher emerged.
The Sunday Times reported he placed his hand on the inner leg of a male Tory MP in a parliament bar in 2017.
He also reportedly made unwanted advances towards a different male Tory MP in 2018 in his parliamentary office, and again towards a Tory activist in his Tamworth constituency office in July 2019.
The MP involved in the 2018 incident is understood to have contacted No 10 to voice his concerns about Mr Pincher being made deputy chief whip in February 2022.
The Mail on Sunday reported allegations Mr Pincher made advances against an individual a decade ago and that a female Tory staffer had tried to prevent his advances towards a young man at a Conservative Party conference.
The Independent published allegations from an unnamed male Tory MP that Mr Pincher groped him on two separate occasions in December 2021 and June 2022.
Mr Pincher denies all of these claims.
Previously Mr Pincher had to resign from the whips’ office back in 2017 after Tory candidate and former Olympic rower Alex Story accused him of making an inappropriate advance.
No 10 has also had to deny a claim by former chief aide Dominic Cummings that the prime minister referred to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” before appointing him.
And Tory MP Craig Whittaker has denied suggestions in The Sunday Telegraph that he left his role in the whips’ office in February in opposition to Mr Pincher’s appointment, saying he stood down over health issues.
What is parliament doing about it?
An official complaint against Mr Pincher has been made to the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.
Independent investigators will now examine the evidence and make recommendations for further action to the parliament’s Standards Commissioner.
The commissioner will review all the evidence and if any rules have been breached, they can demand Mr Pincher apologise to the House of Commons, or refer the case to a separate independent expert panel if more serious sanctions are needed.
This panel does not include any MPs but if it decides Mr Pincher should be suspended or expelled from parliament, MPs would need to vote on it.
However Labour MP Luke Pollard has said men abusing men is a “scandal” in Westminster that has been “overlooked” and “deliberately hidden”.
Did Boris Johnson know?
Lord Simon McDonald, former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, has now published a letter saying No 10’s claim that “no official complaints against [Mr Pincher] were ever made” is inaccurate.
Lord McDonald said shortly after he was appointed as minister of state at the Foreign Office, a group of officials complained to him about Mr Pincher’s behaviour in 2019.
He added: “An investigation upheld the complaint [and] Mr Pincher apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour”.
Lord McDonald said he spoke out after days of No 10 failing to get the story straight.
A number of government ministers have since been trotted out in front of the nation’s media to say Boris Johnson did not know about this complaint.
Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said “to the best of my knowledge” the prime minister was not aware of any specific allegations against Mr Pincher, but added she had not actually spoken to Mr Johnson directly about this.
And on Good Morning Britain Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab refused to acknowledge that Mr Pincher was “guilty” despite Lord McDonald saying a formal complaint against him was “upheld”.
On Monday, No 10 said the prime minister was aware of media reports and allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint”.
This is still a significant change from Downing Street’s initial line three days earlier which said the prime minister was not aware of any allegations.
Then, on July 5, No 10 released a statement to say Mr Johnson failed to remember he had been told Mr Pincher was the subject of an official complaint.
They confirmed the prime minister was briefed on the complaint by officials in the Foreign Office in 2019 a “number of months” after the incident in question took place.
Will Boris Johnson resign?
Boris Johnson is once again facing calls to resign as prime minister.
Political rivals claim he lied about how much he knew about Mr Pincher’s behaviour.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “It is now clear that the prime minister knew about the seriousness of these complaints but decided to promote this man to a senior position in government anyway.
“He refused to act and then lied about what he knew.”
Ministers who knowingly mislead parliament are usually expected to resign.