Former Top Civil Servant Claims Boris Johnson Was Briefed On Pincher Allegations

Simon McDonald disputes Downing Street’s account about what the prime minister knew about allegations surrounding Pincher.

A former top civil servant has claimed Boris Johnson was briefed “in person” about allegations surrounding Chris Pincher in 2019.

In a bombshell letter, Lord Simon McDonald disputed Downing Street’s account about what the prime minister knew about the former deputy chief whip.

McDonald, the former permanent secretary at the foreign office, said No.10 made “inaccurate claims” to the media when they said no official complaints against Pincher were ever made.

For days ministers have insisted Johnson was not aware of specific allegations against Pincher when he was appointed deputy chief whip - whose job it is to uphold discipline among fellow Tory MPs.

Pincher, the MP for Tamworth, was suspended as a Conservative Party MP last week over allegations he groped two men at a private members’ club in London.

Simon McDonald
Simon McDonald
picture alliance via Getty Images

On Monday, Downing Street said the PM was aware of media reports and some allegations about Pincher’s misconduct that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint”.

However, in a letter to the parliament’s standards watchdog McDonald wrote: “Inaccurate claims by 10 Downing Street continue to be repeated in the media. On 3 July, the BBC website reported: ‘No official complaints against [Pincher] were ever made’.

“This is not true. 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.”

McDonald said he raised the allegations - which were similar to those made last week - with the relevant official at the cabinet office.

“An investigation upheld the complaint; Mr Pincher apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour.”

“They need to come clean. I think that the language is ambiguous, 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.”

- Lord McDonald on BBC Radio 4's Today programme

No.10 initially claimed that Johnson was “not aware” of any specific allegations when he appointed Pincher as deputy chief whip in February. They went on to modify their line, saying Johnson knew of allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.

However, McDonald said: “The original No.10 line is still not accurate. 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.”

McDonald said he was acting out of a duty towards the victims.

Deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said Pincher was investigated over a complaint about his conduct when he was a foreign office minister but it did not lead to any formal sanction.

Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time, said the cabinet office ethics and propriety team and the then chief whip Mark Spencer were informed in October 2019.

However, he said that he did not believe there was any reason why Johnson would have been told.

“I updated and reported back to the chief whip so that he was aware given the wider responsibility the chief whip has, but I wouldn’t have expected in relation to something which didn’t merit a formal process, let alone a sanction, to go directly to the prime minister,” he told Times Radio.

Raab said he spoke to Pincher about his conduct and warned him that it must not be repeated.

HuffPost UK has contacted No.10 for comment.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson is dragging British democracy through the muck. His appalling judgement has made Westminster a less safe place to work.“


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