Boris Johnson forgot he had been directly told an investigation was held into Chris Pincher’s behaviour, No.10 has claimed.
The prime minister is under mounting pressure over his decision to appoint close ally Chris Pincher to the job of deputy chief whip.
Downing Street’s explanation has changed over the course of the last five days.
A former senior civil servant this morning publicly accused No.10 of saying things that were “not true”.
Pincher resigned from the post on Thursday after he was accused of drunkenly groping two men at a private members’ club in London last week.
Attention turned to what Johnson knew of allegations made about Pincher before he was appointed to the whips office in February 2022.
Downing Street said on Friday Johnson was not aware of any “specific” allegations about Pincher’s past behaviour.
On Monday morning No.10 shifted its position and said the prime minister had been aware of “allegations” as well as “reports and speculation” when he handed Pincher a job.
The PM’s spokesperson defended the decision on the basis that those previous allegations had either been “resolved” or “did not progress to a formal complaint”.
But early on Tuesday morning, Lord McDonald, the former top civil servant at the Foreign Office, said this was “not true”.
In a letter sent to the parliamentary standards commissioner, McDonald said in the summer of 2019 a complaint by a group of Foreign Office officials about Pincher’s conduct was investigated and upheld.
Crucially, McDonald said that the prime minister was informed of the outcome.
On Tuesday afternoon, the prime minister’s spokesperson said Johnson initially “didn’t recall” having been told about the incident when he was asked on Friday by Downing Street staff.
“At that point at the end of last week he hadn’t established that he had been informed of that in 2019 and we’ve subsequently been able to establish that he was given an update in some form,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said it was “broadly” correct to say the PM had forgotten.
“The prime minister always seeks to provide the information as he has it. This related to a conversation a number of years ago,” they said.
“I can confirm he was briefed on that about the complaint related to Mr Pincher in the Foreign Office which was resolved.”
Asked if they had faith the prime minister was telling them the “full truth”, the spokesperson said: “Yes.”
No.10 defended the decision to appoint Pincher as deputy chief whip in February 2020 on the basis there were “no live allegations against him” at the time.
In his letter, McDonald said: “Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation. 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.”
Speaking later on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, McDonald added of No.10: “I think they need to come clean.
“The sort of telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time and hoping that people are not too forensic in their subsequent questioning and I think that is not working.”