An investigation into misconduct allegations against Chris Pincher found that he “meant no harm”, a minister has claimed.
The probe, which was carried out in 2019 when Pincher was a minister in the Foreign Office, upheld the complaint against him.
It has emerged that Boris Johnson was told about the outcome of the investigation — despite No.10 and ministers repeatedly insisting he was unaware of “specific allegations” against the Tamworth MP.
The prime minister went on to make him deputy chief whip last February.
But Pincher resigned on Thursday after he was accused of groping two men at the Carlton Club in London the previous evening.
In an extraordinary development this morning, Lord McDonald — the former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office — accused No.10 of misleading the public over what the PM knew about Pincher’s past.
“The original No.10 line is still not accurate,” he said in a letter to parliament’s sleaze watchdog. “Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation. There was a ‘formal complaint’.”
Answering an urgent Commons question on the row, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis admitted that officials had “raised concerns” about Pincher in October 2019.
To laughter and disbelief from the opposition benches, Ellis said: “The permanent secretary commissioned work to establish facts, that was undertaken on his behalf by the Cabinet Office, this exercise reported in due course to the then permanent secretary who had agreed its terms.
“The exercise established that while the minister meant no harm, what had occurred had caused a high level of discomfort.”
He added: “This is what the exercise established. The minister apologised and those raising the concern accepted the resolution.”
Ellis went on to say that the prime minister was made aware of the issue in late 2019 but that when “fresh allegations” arose about Pincher last week, he did not “immediately recall the conversation.”
“He was told that the permanent secretary had taken the necessary action, no issue therefore arose about remaining as a minister,” Ellis said.
“Last week when fresh allegations arose, the prime minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about this incident.
“As soon as he was reminded, the No.10 press office corrected their public lines.
“So, the position is quite clear. Further enquiries will be made but the position is the prime minister acted with probity at all times.”
Ellis faced fire from his own benches following his remarks.
Johnson’s former anti-corruption champion John Penrose said: “It is clear from Lord McDonald’s letter today that No.10 have not been honest in what they have said, that is what Lord McDonald says.
“One of the seven Nolan principles is honesty. No.10 was previously accused without rebuttal of lacking leadership by Sue Gray in her report over what went on over partygate.
“How many more of the seven principles are they going to have to breach before he will stand up and say ‘enough is enough?’”
Meanwhile, influential backbencher and Johnson critic William Wragg challenged his colleagues in the Cabinet to consider their positions.
“Ministers should ask themselves if they can any longer tolerate being part of a government which, for better or worse, is widely regarded of having lost its sense of direction”.
“He [Ellis] mentions the sophisticated and robust systems for upholding standards in public life, but those systems are on the whole irrelevant if the participants have no regard for them.
“The question that faces the government and I would suggest my honourable and right honourable friends sat on the bench – and I notice a greater degree of propensity of Government whips rather than other ministers at this time – is for them to consider what they are being asked to say in public which changes seemingly by the hour.
“It is for them to consider their positions, this is not a question of systems, it is a question of political judgment and that political judgment cannot be delegated.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “The minister spoke about personal responsibility – well, the minister needs to remind the prime minister of his personal responsibility.
“The prime minister was personally informed about these allegations and yet he was either negligent or complicit.
“When will this minister stop defending the indefensible and say enough is enough?”