Minister Struggles To Field Questions Over What PM Knew About Chris Pincher Allegations

“The dogs on the streets in Westminster knew what Chris Pincher’s behaviour was like," Nick Robinson said.
Will Quince defended the government over the Chris Pincher allegations
Will Quince defended the government over the Chris Pincher allegations
BBC Breakfast

Will Quince repeatedly faced questions over the language he used this morning, as he claimed the prime minister was not aware of “serious, specific allegations” against Chris Pincher.

The minister for children and families was responding to the growing number of questions hovering over Boris Johnson, after his deputy chief whip – who was responsibility for enforcing party discipline – resigned over allegations of sexual misconduct on Friday.

The Tory whip has since been withdrawn from Pincher, but Johnson is still facing backlash over appointing him in the first place.

On his media round, Quince claimed he was given a “categorical assurance” that the prime minister was not aware of any “serious, specific allegations” when Pincher was appointed.

For comparison, work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey said on Sunday that Johnson was not “aware of specific claims” against Pincher.

Over on Radio 4′s Today programme, host Nick Robinson pointed out it was one thing to fire someone from a role over rumours, another to appoint them to a new job when such gossip was circulating.

Robinson suggested: “The dogs on the streets in Westminster knew what Chris Pincher’s behaviour was like especially when he’s had a few drinks.

“I note that when I asked if you knew about those rumours, you didn’t say no.”

Quince simply claimed that he does not listen to gossip.

BBC Breakfast’s Sally Nugent also picked up on the language use Quince was using, pointing out: “You have spoken to people in Downing Street to clarify the situation about what the prime minister knew and when.

“But you don’t know, you aren’t clear, on whether Boris Johnson was aware of more general allegations.”

Quince repeated that the prime minister was not aware of any “specific allegation or complaint”.

As Nugent pushed on what Johnson might have known about more “general” allegations, he claimed, “you’re talking about gossip,” adding that no professional organisation can take action on “gossip or rumour”.

Quince later told LBC he was “happy” with this assurance from No.10 that the prime minister was not aware of “specific allegations” about Pincher, and said no-one would have appointed Pincher if they had known about the sexual misconduct claims.

The concerns over what Johnson knew before appointing Pincher back in February have snowballed after a tweet by Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former senior aide, caused a stir on Saturday.

Cummings claimed that the prime minister had called the MP, “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature”, before promoting him to cabinet.

When pressed over the tweet, Quince said: ”I personally don’t give much credit to what Dominic Cummings said, nor am I going to comment on speculation or gossip or rumours as to what may or may not have been said.”

However, when pressed again on LBC over what Johnson knew before appointing Pincher, Quince said: “I don’t know what the prime minister was and wasn’t aware of.

“Westminster has always been and will always be awash with gossip.”

Quince also faced questions over reports that senior ministers were deliberately shunning the spotlight today, leaving junior ministers to take up the bat.

He was asked: “As you do the rounds, what’s it like to be the person who has to sit there and answer these questions?”

As the minister for children and families, Quince rejected these claims and said he was booked four days ago to talk about childcare reforms.

But, he added: “I’m hugely embarrassed as a member of parliament to be in any way associated by it. It’s hugely damaging for the trust and confidence of the public in parliament when allegations of this nature come forward.”

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