Fate of Tory MP who resigned as chief whip hangs in balance

The fate of Chris Pincher, the former deputy Tory chief whip who quit after reports that he drunkenly groped two men at a private club, was in the balance on Friday, as Labor called for him to be booted out of the party.

Pincher, a close ally of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, will face questions from chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris about the incident at the Carlton Club, a central London venue closely associated with the Conservative party.

Johnson will be anxious to avoid expelling Pincher, a move which could trigger an unwanted by-election in his Tamworth constituency, where he secured a 19,634 majority over Labor at the 2019 election.

Pincher’s resignation follows a string of so-called sleaze claims that have crushd Johnson’s government in recent months. Neil Parish was forced to stand down as the Tory MP for Tiverton and Honiton after he admitted to watching pornography in the House of Commons.

Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted for sexual assault of a teenage boy last month and forced to quit as Tory MP for Wakefield. The party lost both ensuing by-elections.

Simon Hart, Welsh secretary, said on Friday that Heaton-Harris was looking into the incident and that the rights of “victims” were paramount. He acknowledged that a formal investigation had not yet been opened.

“The chief whip will be having conversations during the day,” Hart told the BBC. “He will treat this with the utmost seriousness.”

Pincher resigned on Thursday night after admitting he had “embarrassed myself and other people” after having had “far too much” to drink.

Allies of Johnson initially suggested he could remain a Tory MP, given that he had resigned immediately and acknowledged his inappropriate behaviour. But some Tory MPs believe Pincher should be punished.

Angela Rayner, the Labor deputy leader, said the prime minister had “serious questions to answer about . . . how [Pincher] can remain a Conservative MP”.

“This latest episode shows how far standards in public life have been degraded on Boris Johnson’s watch,” she said. “The Conservative party is so mired in sleaze and scandal that it is totally unable to tackle the challenges facing the British people.”

Pincher was appointed to the job this year as part of an effort to shore up Johnson’s position as prime minister; he was a key part of efforts to stave off a leadership challenge.

According to The Sun newspaper, which broke the story, the incident took place at the Carlton Club, an exclusive members club in St James’s in London.

The paper alleged that he assaulted two guests on Wednesday evening following heavy drinking.

The 52-year-old MP for Tamworth in Staffordshire was previously forced to resign as an assistant whip in 2017 after a former Tory candidate alleged he had made unwanted advances.

Following an internal party probe, Pincher was cleared of wrongdoing and in 2018 rejoined the government, at the time led by Theresa May, as deputy chief whip.

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