Boris Johnson was aware of allegations of sexual misconduct facing Chris Pincher before appointing him as deputy chief whip, Downing Street has confirmed.
Mr Pincher quit his role in the Tory Whips' Office last week for a second time, with both resignations coming following allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
The prime minister's judgement in making the MP for Tamworth a government whip - a role which involves enforcing discipline in the party - has been called into question, given the appointment was made just five years after the first allegation.
In 2017, Mr Pincher quit as a whip in Theresa May's government after Tory activist Alex Story accused him of making an inappropriate advance during an alleged incident in 2001.
Mr Pincher referred himself to police, who took no further action, and the Conservative Party complaints procedure.
Despite this, Downing Street spent days insisting Prime Minister Johnson was not aware of the allegations facing his former deputy chief whip before appointing him, and a number of Cabinet ministers were sent to defend their leader with this claim in broadcast interviews.
But several fresh allegations over historical incidents were made against Mr Pincher over the weekend and Number 10 was forced to row back on its denials in a briefing with journalists on Monday morning.
Mr Johnson's spokesman said the Prime Minister had been aware of the "speculation" there had been about Mr Pincher over a number of years when he made him deputy chief whip last February.
"I can't get into too much detail but he did take advice on some of the allegations that had been made, but there was no formal complaint at that time and it was deemed not appropriate to stop an appointment simply because of unsubstantiated allegations," the spokesman said.
Minister insists PM would not make 'Pincher by name, pincher by nature' joke:
"He was aware that there had been reports and speculation over the years with regards to this individual, but there were no specific allegation. There was no formal complaint at that time."
Mr Pincher is now seeking “professional medical support” after telling the PM he was quitting government on Thursday after he "drank too much" and "embarrassed" himself at a Tory private members' club the previous night.
He's been suspended from the parliamentary Tory party pending investigation after the Sun reported he "groped" two men at the Carlton Club on Wednesday.
Mr Pincher has also been asked not to attend the parliamentary estate while he is under investigation.
He hopes to return to work as an MP as "soon as possible" but critics say he should step down immediately, given the latest allegations come amid a string of others.
One Tory backbencher said claims about Mr Pincher had been “swirling around Westminster for years”.
Mr Johnson's former chief adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed the PM was actually well aware of claims around Mr Pincher's behaviour - so much so that he used to joke about him being "Pincher by name, pincher by nature".
Minister Will Quince denied to ITV News that his boss would make light of such serious allegations, however Number 10 did not deny he made the joke when asked by journalists.
"I don't believe that is something the prime minister would have said. I'm not getting involved in rumour or gossip, that is a 'he said, she said', scenario - I just don't believe that is the sort of thing the prime minister would have joked about," he said.
Number 10, however, refused to respond to the allegations made by Mr Cummings, saying he was "not going to comment on content of what was or wasn't said in private conversations".
Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday alleged he threatened to report a parliamentary researcher to her boss after she tried to stop his “lecherous” advances to a young man at a Conservative Party conference.
The Sunday Times alleged he made unwanted passes at two Conservative MPs in 2017 and 2018 – after his first resignation as a whip.
A Tory MP told the Independent he was groped on two occasions by Mr Pincher, first in December 2021 and again last month.
Despite the new allegations, Mr Quince says Number 10 had given him a "cast iron, categorical assurance" that Mr Johnson was unaware of any "specific" allegations against Mr Pincher before appointing him.
The PM was criticised for taking so long to withdraw the whip from the MP after his resignation, with more than 24 hours passing before he was suspended from the party.
Number 10 said the PM had been waiting for an Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) investigation to be launched after receiving a formal complaint before suspending him.
The new allegations reignited concerns about standards in Westminster after a string of Conservative MPs faced sexual misconduct claims.
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In May, Neil Parish quit as MP for Tiverton and Honiton after admitting viewing pornography in the Commons chamber.
A month earlier, then-Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was jailed for 18 months for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.
The Conservatives lost both by-elections that followed.
A third unnamed Tory MP has been told by whips to stay away from Parliament after being arrested on suspicion of rape and other offences.
In a statement, Mr Pincher said he would “co-operate fully” with the investigation into his conduct.
“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,” he continued.
“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.”