Analysis: Why Simon McDonald's Letter on Chris Pincher Is A Big Deal

The former permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office said No.10's various comments on the affair are "not true".
Lord McDonald is the former top civil servants in the Foreign Office
Lord McDonald is the former top civil servants in the Foreign Office
UK Parliament

Former civil servants don’t usually do this kind of thing.

When Lord (formerly Simon) McDonald took to Twitter at 7.30 this morning, he knew the political firestorm he would create.

But, quite simply, he had had enough of Number 10′s obfuscation and downright lies about the Chris Pincher scandal. And he was determined to set the record straight.

He said: “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.”

Confirming a BBC story from last night, the crossbench peer’s letter to Kathryn Stone said Downing Street claims that no formal complaints were ever made against the former deputy chief whip were “not true”.

McDonald said that in 2019 when he was permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office - where Pincher was a minister at the time - “a group of officials” complained about his behaviour.

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

What’s more, the outcome of the investigation was “briefed in person” to Boris Johnson - blowing apart the No. 10 line that the PM did not know of any “specific allegations” against Pincher before making him deputy chief whip last February.

Downing Street modified that defence yesterday by claiming the PM had aware of “reports and speculation” about Pincher.

But that did not wash with Lord McDonald, who wrote: “The original No. 10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate.”

Following on from the publication of his letter, the peer then popped up at 8.10am on Radio Four’s Today programme - the most listened to interview slot in the Westminster village.

Pressed on how he knew that Johnson was personally briefed on the Foreign Office investigation into Pincher, McDonald said he was informed by a senior Cabinet Office official.

“I know that the senior official briefed the Prime Minister in person because that official told me so at the time,” he said.

McDonald added: “It is very unusual for a retired official to do what I’ve done this morning. I’ve done it by myself because what I’ve seen and read over the last few days, I knew to be wrong. It gets to the point where you have to do the right thing.”

Adding to the government’s discomfort, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab was at the same time touring the TV and radio studios trying to hold the No. 10 line.

When told about what McDonald was saying, his response was emblematic of the confusion at the heart of Johnson’s administration: “That’s news to me.”

As the PM gathers his ministers around the cabinet table this morning, many of them will surely be wondering how long they can go on defending a man overseeing such a chaotic regime.


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