The Chris Pincher scandal that rocked UK politics and put Boris Johnson’s future in trouble

Top British ministers Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid quit within minutes of each other, posing the biggest leadership challenge for Boris Johnson’s premiership so far. The UK PM is facing heat over his flip-flops on Chris Pincher, a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct

In the latest setback to United Kingdom prime minister Boris Johnson, two of his top ministers resigned, expressing a lack of confidence in his leadership. Finance Minister Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid quit within 10 minutes of each other; junior ministers and aides followed.

Johnson is under fire for his handling of the case against Chris Pincher, a lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct. The deputy chief whip stepped down on 30 July after allegations that he groped two male colleagues at a London club in an inebriated state. Over the weekend, other sexual harassment allegations against Pincher emerged.

The political crisis unfolded on Tuesday evening, minutes after the prime minister admitted in an interview to BBC that he made a “bad mistake” in appointing Pincher as deputy chief whip in February this year despite being aware of misconduct allegations against him. The admission came after days of changing responses from Downing Street over what Johnson knew about Pincher’s reputation when he was hired.

The flurry of resignations is the latest controversy plaguing the British premier after “partygate” – a scandal about gatherings at No 10 during the coronavirus lockdown. It led to a no-confidence motion which Johnson survived. However, his Conservative Party suffered two bypoll defeats last month and now the resignations have again put a question mark on the PM’s future.

What are the many allegations against Chris Pincher?

There were two complaints against 52-year-old MP over his conduct at the Carlton Club in London’s Piccadilly on 29 June. He was accused by two men of drunkenly groping them. After the matter was reported to and investigated by the UK government chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris, Pincher resigned.

Apologizing for his actions, the parliamentarian said that he had “drunk far too much” and had “embarrassed myself and other people”.

However, Pincher is a serial offender. Over the weekend, a string of further sexual harassment allegations emerged along with suggestions that the politician had acquired a degree of notoriety among his colleagues, reports the Independent.

Explained The Chris Pincher scandal that rocked UK politics and put Boris Johnsons future in trouble

Britain’s government is facing another boozy scandal after Chris Pincher quit as the deputy chief whip after a drunken incident this week. PA

In 2017, he left the whips’ office after former professional rower and Tory activist Alex Story accused him of making unwanted passes. Back then, Pincher had denied the allegations and an investigation conducted by the party later cleared him of wrongdoing.

In July 2019, he was brought back into the government by Johnson and then made housing minister. He was made deputy chief by Johnson in February this year.

According to a Sunday Times report, a male Tory had informed the whips office then that Pincher had made an unwanted pass at him. Other Conservative MPs have also said that concerns about his behavior were raised

Why is Johnson in trouble?

The prime minister has been accused of not acting on allegations against Pincher and appointing him back into the government even after being aware of them in 2019. On 1 July, the government claimed that Johnson was not aware of the misconduct, but on Monday said that the PM knew of the charges that were “either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint.”

However, Johnson’s stance continued to change, claiming that he did not immediately recall that he was brief about the charges in 2019.

Explained The Chris Pincher scandal that rocked UK politics and put Boris Johnsons future in trouble

Boris Johnson faces the biggest challenge to his leadership so after after chancellor and the health secretary quit. AFP

On Tuesday, Simon McDonald, the most senior civilian servant at the UK Foreign Office between 2015 and 2020, said that the PM was briefed about Pincher. McDonald said that Johnson had been “briefed in person” about an investigation into Pincher during his time as foreign office minister in 2019.

“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. I discussed the matter with the relevant official at the Cabinet Office,” McDonald wrote in a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards and then tweeted it.

“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 characterize the allegations as ‘unsubstantiated’ is therefore wrong,” McDonald claimed.

Why did Johnson apologize on Tuesday?

After several flip-flops, the PM sought to come clean about the whole controversy.

Asked if it was an error to appoint Pincher to the government, Johnson said, “I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it. In hindsight, it was the wrong thing to do.”

“I apologize to everybody who has been badly affected by it. I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power,” he said while speaking to reporters.

He did not deny joking: “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature”, reports Metro UK.

Why have top UK ministers resigned?

Johnson’s apology was too little too late. It did not stop Sunak and Javid from quitting. Both the leaders were extremely critical of the PM in their resignation letters.

Sunak said, “For me to step down as Chancellor while the world is suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other serious challenges is a decision that I have not taken lightly. However, the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognize this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning.”

Javid, whose resignation followed, said, “… the country needs a strong and principled Conservative Party, and the party is bigger than any one individual.”

Several junior ministers and aides announced they were quitting after the two big resignations shook the government.

Explained The Chris Pincher scandal that rocked UK politics and put Boris Johnsons future in trouble

Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak stepped down on Tuesday, as Boris Johnson fights for political survival. AFP

What next for Johnson?

Johnson made it clear that he planned to continue as he reshuffled the Cabinet. He was quick to appoint Nadhim Zahawi as the new finance minister; the prime minister’s chief of staff, Steve Barclay, was named health secretary.

However, this is the most serious leadership crisis he is facing so far.

Johnson will come under further pressure on Wednesday, as he faces MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions. He is also due to give evidence to the Liaison Committee, a group of MPs who scrutinize the government’s policy and decisions, reports BBC.

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost urged Johnson to resign. “If he hangs on, he risks taking the party and the government down with him,” he told The Telegraph.

Opposition party leaders urged Cabinet ministers to also resign.

Conservative MP and former chief whip, Andrew Mitchell, told BBC Newsnight it was “over” for Johnson, saying “he has neither the character nor the temperament to be our prime minister” and the only question was how long the affair would go on.

However, Tory MPs have not challenged the PM so far. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she was “100 per cent behind the PM” and other ministers have also hinted that they would be staying in the government.

With inputs from agencies

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