Chris Pincher was found to have drunkenly groped two men while he was the Conservative government's deputy chief whip, ITV News Political Correspondent Harry Horton reports
MP Chris Pincher faces an eight-week parliamentary suspension which could trigger a fifth headache by-election for Rishi Sunak, after a standards watchdog upheld "profoundly damaging" groping allegations against him.
Mr Pincher was found to have drunkenly groped two men at London's exclusive Carlton Club while he was the Conservative Government's deputy chief whip last summer, in what the Standards Committee described as an "especially grave" "abuse of power".
In the report, Mr Pincher, who denies breaching the code of conduct, was found to have caused "significant and lasting damage to the reputation and integrity" of the House with "completely inappropriate" conduct.
The Committee said Mr Pincher told the investigation he was "very sorry" for his actions, which he claims he is unable to recall.
The report's key findings
Mr Pincher's alleged behaviour, which was upheld by the Committee, was found to be "unwanted, upsetting, and deeply inappropriate" to the complainants
One complainant said his actions had been "traumatic"
The Committee ruled Mr Pincher broke paragraph 17 of the Ministerial Code, which states: "Members shall never undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally"
The report found: "Mr Pincher’s conduct was completely inappropriate, profoundly damaging to the individuals concerned, and represented an abuse of power"
A recommended parliamentary suspension of eight weeks has been given by the Committee, which passes the threshold to trigger a recall petition in Mr Pincher's constituency if MPs approve of the report's findings
The mitigating factors for the committee were that Mr Pincher "expressed genuine contrition", "an apology to those affected", he "promptly resigned as a Government Minister", "took responsibility for his actions" and "cooperated" with the investigation
A witness said "the incident has significantly impacted me", adding: "I have become increasingly anxious as a result of the incident." One also described it as "traumatic".
One complainant, a House of Lords employee at the time, said around midnight on June 30 last year Mr Pincher grabbed his forearm in the bar of the private members club "for longer than necessary".
The MP, who currently sits as an independent, went on to "stroke his neck" before he "squeezed the complainant's bottom", the report said.
A civil servant who was another witness in the investigation said Mr Pincher touched his bottom before squeezing his testicles for several seconds.
The committee said Mr Pincher's actions amounted to an "egregious case of sexual misconduct", prompting calls from opposition parties for him to resign as an MP.
Shadow Commons Leader Thangam Debbonaire said she hopes 'the government isn't attempting to delay any possible by-election' following the report's publication
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called on Mr Pincher to "do the decent thing and resign", describing his actions as "shocking".
"But what's even worse is the way the Conservative Party protected him - even promoting him despite a previous investigation into his conduct," she added.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Shadow Commons Leader Thangam Debbonaire expressed concern that there is no set date for a motion to approve the report.
"The committee found that the actions of the member significantly affected the public's perception of this House," she said.
"I'm afraid to say that shamefully it appears the Conservative Party had protected and even promoted him despite a previous investigation into his conduct. So I am concerned that she has not announced the motion to approve the report in the business.
"I do hope the Government isn't attempting to delay any possible by election. So could she [Penny Mordaunt] confirm that she will bring forward this motion as soon as possible, that the Government will then be recommending approving the report and its sanctions and will this include the Prime Minister?"
Responding, Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt said Mr Pincher has 10 days to appeal the report and "we must let due process run its course". But, Ms Mordaunt stressed, "we take these matters incredibly seriously".
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats urged the prime minister to "show some backbone" by voting to suspend Mr Pincher when the report goes before the Commons.
But the prime minister's official spokesman said it was for Mr Pincher to decide whether he should quit Parliament, although acknowledging the report "raises serious issues".
Mr Pincher has apologised for his actions, but he denies breaching paragraph 17 of the Code of Conduct.
The report says "he accepts that his conduct has damaged his own reputation and that of the Government", however he rebukes the allegation that it has caused "significant damage to the reputation of the House, or of its Members generally."
In a statement, Mr Pincher said he apologises "sincerely" and will not fight to remain as Tamworth's MP.
"I resigned as deputy chief whip and have already said that I will not seek re-election," he said.
"I have sought professional medical help, which is ongoing and has been beneficial to me, for which I am grateful."
The report's recommendation of an eight-week suspension now paves the way for a by-election in the MP's Tamworth constituency, with the sanction exceeding the threshold for a recall petition in Mr Pincher's Staffordshire seat.
But MPs must approve the report before this can happen.
If 10% of Tamworth voters sign a recall petition, then Rishi Sunak's Conservatives will have to defend another constituency won by the Tories in 2019.
It would be the fifth by-election for Mr Sunak, who already has three confirmed for July 20.
By-election dates for the constituencies represented by MPs David Warburton and Nadine Dorries are yet to be announced, with a fifth now looking increasingly likely.
Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know.