Following another scandal for the Tory party, Conservative MPs are being urged to spend more time in their constituencies to distance themselves from Westminster, says Political Reporter David Wood
Chris Pincher, who lost the Conservative whip after being accused drunkenly of groping two men, said he is seeking "professional medical support" as he hopes to return to his duties as an MP "as soon as possible".
A statement by the Tamworth Member of Parliament said he "respected" the prime minister's decision to suspend the whip, adding he would "cooperate fully" with an inquiry into his behaviour.
It comes as Boris Johnson is facing questions over his delay in suspending the Tory whip from Mr Pincher.
Fresh allegations emerged against the 52-year-old after the prime minister bowed to pressure when an investigation was launched by Parliament’s sexual misconduct watchdog on Friday.
Mr Pincher quit as Tory deputy chief whip when allegations of unwanted touching at London’s Carlton Club emerged a day earlier.
What prompted the prime minister to act against Mr Pincher? Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana explained on Friday's News At Ten
The prime minister had been resisting calls to act until the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) launched an investigation after receiving a formal complaint.
Mr Johnson spoke to several individuals on Friday, including a Tory MP who was with one of the men allegedly groped by Mr Pincher, a Downing Street source said.
“The account given was sufficiently disturbing to make the PM feel more troubled by all this,” the source said.
The prime minister is facing questions today over his delay in suspending the Tory whip from an MP accused of groping two men, as Callum Watkinson reports
Now sitting as an independent, Mr Pincher is battling to remain in the House of Commons despite opponents saying his position is untenable.
In a statement, he said: "I respect the prime minister's decision to suspend the whip whilst an inquiry is underway, and I will cooperate fully with it.
"As I told the prime minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused.
"The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support.
"I am in the process of seeking that now, and I hope to be able to return to my constituency duties as soon as possible."
Also on Saturday, two of the alleged victims broke their silence, speaking to The Times.
One of the men recounted the "bizarre" alleged grope to the newspaper, but said he was left "furious" and "shell-shocked" by the Tory party's decision to not withdraw the whip immediately.
The second man who claimed his was groped recounted a similar encounter with Mr Pincher to The Times.
After the groping allegations emerged on Thursday, further claims have been levelled against the MP, with the Times reporting a young Tory activist received an unwanted sexual advance last year.
The activist said the MP put his hand on his knee and told him he would “go far in the party” at a party conference event last year.
Mr Pincher’s lawyers told the newspaper he firmly denies the allegation, which mirrors a complaint that led to the MP’s resignation from the whips office for the first time, in 2017.
Former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story alleged Mr Pincher touched him while making an unwanted pass and using similar language.
Mr Pincher was reinstated two months later as a senior whip by Theresa May after having referred himself to both the police and the Conservative Party complaints procedure.
Downing Street appeared to acknowledge that there had been concerns when he was appointed in February to the whips’ office, with responsibility for discipline over Tory MPs.
However, a No 10 spokesperson said the prime minister had not been made aware of anything that would have prevented the appointment going ahead.
“In the absence of any formal complaints, it was not appropriate to stop an appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations,” the spokesperson said.
Tory Andrew Bridgen suggested Downing Street was guilty of “double standards” in the difference in the handling of the “arch loyalist” and Neil Parish, the Conservative who was forced to stand down as an MP after admitting watching pornography in the Commons.
Mr Bridgen said No 10’s action had been insufficient, telling BBC Newsnight: “For those who wish to maintain confidence in the prime minister or even regain it it has been a particularly bad day.
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“Neil was a very independent-minded Conservative backbencher, he never really sought patronage and he did hold ministers to account. Chris Pincher is seen as an arch-loyalist and I think that, to most people, will be the reason for the difference in their treatment. And that’s not tenable either.”
The backbencher said allegations about Mr Pincher had been “swirling around Westminster for years” and would likely have been known by the whips’ office, which he described as the “eyes and ears” of No 10.
Caroline Nokes and Karen Bradley, two senior Tory MPs who chair Commons select committees, called for Mr Johnson to implement a “zero tolerance” policy over sexual misconduct claims.
Mr Pincher was brought in alongside chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris, another trusted ally, to shore up support for the prime minister amid growing unrest among Tory MPs over the disclosures about lockdown parties in Downing Street.
But he was now being replaced by former housing minister Kelly Tolhurst, the MP for Rochester and Strood.
The latest allegations came after the Conservative Party was hit by a series of scandals relating to sexual misconduct.
In May, Mr Parish quit as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after admitting viewing pornography in the Commons chamber, while the previous month Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for 18 months for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
In both cases the Conservatives lost the ensuing by-elections.
A third unnamed Conservative MP has been told by the whips to stay away from Parliament after he was arrested on suspicion of rape and other offences.
In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Mr Pincher apologised for his behaviour.
“Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people which is the last thing I want to do and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned,” he said.