Boris Johnson remains under pressure about what exactly he knew regarding allegations against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.
Ministers publicly defended the Prime Minister over the weekend and into Monday, stressing that Mr Johnson was not aware of any specific allegations against Mr Pincher.
But the controversy has piled pressure on the already embattled Prime Minister, amid questions about the handling of the allegations and the wisdom of the initial decision to appoint Mr Pincher to a role as deputy chief whip.
Former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings alleged that Mr Johnson had referred to the MP as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature” long before appointing him in February.
The MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire quit as Tory deputy chief whip after he was accused of drunkenly groping two men at a private members’ club in London this week.
The Prime Minister only bowed to pressure to remove the whip from his ally, meaning he is now sitting in the Commons as an independent, after an official investigation was launched.
Junior minister Will Quince defended the Prime Minister on Monday morning, even as he faced questions about whether senior Cabinet ministers were reluctant to appear on the airwaves to discuss the issue.
He questioned the credibility of Mr Cummings, when pressed on his allegation, but also declined to fully deny that he was aware of general rumours linked to the former deputy chief whip.
Mr Quince, who repeatedly said Mr Johnson was not aware of specific allegations, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There are lot of rumours and gossip around Westminster … If I had a pound for every rumour that I’d heard about another MP, then I’d be a very wealthy man.”
Mr Pincher had already quit the whips’ office in 2017 after a complaint that he had made an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story.
Mr Story, who was a young Tory activist at the time, alleged that year that the MP untucked the back of his shirt, massaged his neck and whispered “You’ll go far in the Tory Party”.
Fresh allegations emerged as Mr Pincher said he is seeking “professional medical support” and hopes to return to represent his constituents “as soon as possible”.
The Mail on Sunday alleged that he threatened to report a parliamentary researcher to her boss after she tried to stop his “lecherous” advances to a young man at a Conservative Party conference.
The Sunday Times alleged that he made unwanted passes at two Conservative MPs in 2017 and 2018 – after his first resignation as a whip.
A Tory MP told the Independent he was groped on two occasions by Mr Pincher, first in December 2021 and again last month.
The Labour Party is continuing to press Downing Street over the handling of the issue.
Shadow minister Baroness Jenny Chapman told BBC Breakfast: “We want to know who knew what and when and why those decisions were made the way they were.
“I don’t think anybody in Westminster believes that Boris Johnson did not know about the allegations about Mr Pincher.”
Mr Pincher did not respond to requests for comment on the latest allegations, but the newspapers behind them said he denied the claims.
Tory MP Craig Whittaker indicated that he left his role in the whips’ office in February because of health issues rather than in opposition to Mr Pincher’s appointment, as reported by the Sunday Telegraph.
According to a statement issued by the Tory whips, Mr Whittaker said: “Following press speculation I want to clarify that I left the whips’ office in February 2022 due to health issues I was experiencing at the time.”
The latest allegations came after the Conservative Party was hit by a series of scandals relating to sexual misconduct.
In May, Neil Parish quit as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after admitting viewing pornography in the Commons chamber.
A month earlier, then-Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for 18 months for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
In both cases, the Conservatives lost the ensuing by-elections.
A third unnamed Tory MP has been told by whips to stay away from Parliament after being arrested on suspicion of rape and other offences.
In a statement, Mr Pincher said he will “co-operate fully” with the investigation by Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.
“As I told the Prime Minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others, and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused,” he said.
“The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support.
“I am in the process of seeking that now, and I hope to be able to return to my constituency duties as soon as possible.”