Updated: July 7, 2022 11:01:26 am
In the latest and potentially fatal blow to the government of Boris Johnson in the UK, two of his most senior ministers, Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, resigned within minutes of each other on Tuesday, expressing a lack of confidence in his leadership.
Johnson is facing heat for his shifting claims on Chris Pincher, a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct. Pincher had to step down as a government whip on July 30 after allegations that he groped two men at a London club in a drunken state.
The latest crisis for Johnson comes just after ‘Partygate’, a no confidence motion he survived, and two bypoll defeats for his party.
In his resignation letter, finance minister Rishi Sunak said, “For me to step down as Chancellor while the world is suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other serious challenges is a decision that I have not taken lightly. However, the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”
Health minister Sajid Javid said, “It is with enormous regret that I must tell you that I can no longer, in good conscience, continue serving in this government. I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their government.”
So, what is the Chris Pincher scandal, which is threatening Johnson’s survival as Prime Minister? We explain.
What happened on July 5
Tuesday was a dramatic day for UK politics, which saw, before the resignation of two senior ministers, the PM apologising for not firing Pincher when sexual misconduct allegations against him surfaced in 2019. Hours before that, a former senior civil servant accused Downing Street of lying on the issue even as the Deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab, was defending the government on TV.
This morning I have written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards – because No 10 keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth. pic.twitter.com/vln9FU4V50
— Simon McDonald (@SimonMcDonaldUK) July 5, 2022
Johnson has been accused of not acting against Pincher even though he knew of the allegations against him in 2019. While on July 1, the government claimed the PM was not aware of the charges, on Monday, a spokesperson said Johnson knew of sexual misconduct allegations that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”
Soon, the claim changed to Johnson “not immediately recalling” that he was briefed about the charges in 2019.
This came after Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at the UK Foreign Office between 2015 and 2020, asserted that the claims made by the prime minister’s office were false.
McDonald wrote a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards and then put it on Twitter. “The original No. 10 line is not true, and the modification is still not accurate,” McDonald said. “Mr. Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation [in 2019]. There was a ‘formal complaint.’ Allegations were ‘resolved’ only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr. Pincher was not exonerated. To characterise the allegations as ‘unsubstantiated’ is therefore wrong,” he claimed.
About the complaints against Pincher and the investigation, McDonald wrote, “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. I discussed the matter with the relevant official at the Cabinet Office. (In substance, the allegations were similar to those made about his behaviour at the Carlton Club.) An investigation upheld the complaint; Mr Pincher apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour.”
What is Pincher accused of
On June 29, Pincher visited a club in Piccadilly, where two men accused him of groping them. The matter was reported to the chief whip, and a day later, Pincher resigned as the deputy chief whip, saying he had “got drunk and embarrassed himself”, The Guardian reported.
Before that, in 2017, former professional rower and Tory activist Alex Story had accused Pincher of making sexual passes at him in 2001, calling the latter a “poundshop Harvey Weinstein”. Pincher had then resigned from the whips’ office, though he denied Story’s claims.
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In 2019, Johnson appointed Pincher as a Foreign Office minister, and in February this year, as the deputy chief whip. Among his responsibilities in this role was upholding party discipline.
Pincher has faced many other allegations of making sexual passes at people, including at two Tory MPs.
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When last week’s allegations against him surfaced, Dominic Cummings, a former Johnson aide, claimed the PM had once referred to Pincher as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”, suggesting he was aware of the predatory behaviour claims.
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