Dominic Raab was this morning ambushed in a TV interview with claims Boris Johnson had been told ‘in person’ about a past ‘formal complaint’ concerning shamed MP Chris Pincher.
The Deputy Prime Minister faced a grilling on BBC Breakfast after former top civil servant, Simon McDonald, hit out at Number 10’s handling of the latest Westminster sleaze scandal.
Mr Pincher last week resigned as Tory deputy chief whip following claims he drunkenly groped two men at a posh London members’ club.
He has now also been suspended as a Conservative MP, while a slew of further allegations have emerged against the 52-year-old spanning several years.
The latest row has threatened to imperil Boris Johnson’s political future yet again, with questions being asked about what the Prime Minister knew of Mr Pincher’s conduct before handing him a Government role.
One northern Tory MP, who has not been a regular rebel, today issued a chilling warning to Mr Johnson that he had little time left in office.
They told MailOnline: ‘The party has had enough. I’ll be amazed if Boris gets to Christmas.
‘It’s more about No10 incompetence than Chris. More lies. It’s either over for Boris, or it’s over for over a 100 colleagues.’
Downing Street has insisted the PM – who chaired a Cabinet meeting this morning focussed on the Government’s response to the cost-of-living crisis – was not aware of ‘specific allegations being looked at’ concerning Mr Pincher before appointing him.
But No10 admitted Mr Johnson knew of ‘media reports’ and ‘some allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal comlaint’.
Downing Street also stressed the PM took advice on giving Mr Pincher the deputy chief whip role in February, but found it was ‘not appropriate’ to block the appointment because of ‘unsubstantiated allegations’.
Dominic Raab – arriving in Downing Street later this morning for a Cabinet meeting – was ambushed in a TV interview with claims Boris Johnson had been told ‘in person’ about a past ‘formal complaint’ concerning shamed MP Chris Pincher
The PM is under pressure over his decision to appoint Mr Pincher as the Conservative deputy chief whip in February
Lord McDonald of Salford gave critics of Mr Johnson further ammunition today when he penned a bombshell letter to a parliamentary watchdog
The former top civil servant claimed No10 ‘keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth’
Boris warned he might be safe for the summer – but could still be gone by Christmas
Boris Johnson is facing a renewed threat to his leadership following the latest Tory sleaze scandal.
Claims against ex-deputy chief whip Chris Pincher – and No10’s handling of the row – has emboldened Conservative rebels in their attempts to get rid of the PM.
Their challenge in achieving that aim is the fact that Mr Johnson won a no confidence vote over his leadership only last month.
This granted him immunity from another challenge for 12 months.
But, in a new rebel plot, critics of the PM are attempting to win key positions on the 1922 Committee – the influential body in charge of Tory leadership contests – in a battle with PM loyalists.
If rebels secure a majority on the Committee’s 18-strong executive, they could change the rules to allow Mr Johnson to face another no confidence vote sooner than next June.
The 1922 elections are not due to take place until next week and MPs then go on their summer break on 21 July.
This means there is little time for Tory rebels to change the rules and also stage a no confidence vote before MPs head away from Westminster until September.
No.10 will take confidence that the PM, therefore, is safe for the summer – which they might hope will act as a ‘firebreak’ in cooling the fury of rebel MPs.
Mr Johnson will plot an autumn fightback with his Tory conference speech in October.
But some are still predicting the PM – despite being granted a summer respite – will still be gone within months.
One northern Tory MP, who has not been a regular rebel, said: ‘I’ll be amazed if Boris gets to Christmas.’
Lord McDonald of Salford gave critics of Mr Johnson further ammunition today when he penned a bombshell letter to a parliamentary watchdog and claimed No10 ‘keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth’.
He detailed how the PM was told ‘in person’ about a ‘formal complaint’ concerning Mr Pincher in the summer of 2019.
The crossbench peer, the former top official at the Foreign Office, referred to a complaint by a ‘group of officials’ at the department about Mr Pincher’s behaviour when he was a Foreign Office minister.
In a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Lord McDonald wrote: ‘The original No10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate. 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 characterise the allegations as “unsubstantiated” is therefore wrong.’
Lord McDonald said that Mr Pincher ‘deceived me and others in 2019’, adding: ‘He cannot be allowed to use the confidentiality of the process three years ago to pursue his predatory behaviour in other contexts.’
Soon after Lord McDonald published his letter on Twitter, Mr Raab was quizzed about the crossbench peer’s claims as he continued his round of TV and radio interviews this morning.
The Deputy PM, who was Foreign Secretary at the time of the 2019 complaint, insisted he was ‘very confident’ in the decisions that were taken at the time and said he went ‘above and beyond’ Lord McDonald’s advice to him by referring the complaint to the Cabinet Office.
Mr Raab had earlier revealed he ‘spoke to’ Mr Pincher ‘in no uncertain terms’ when the past complaint was made about his behaviour, but he defended him as an ‘exceptional’ minister.
‘We were clear that what happened was inappropriate, but we resolved it without going for a formal disciplinary process,’ he told LBC Radio.
‘I spoke directly to Chris Pincher in no uncertain terms and I referred it to the Cabinet Office to seek that assurance.’
Responding to Lord McDonald’s letter, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner claimed the PM’s ‘desperate attempts to cover up what he knew about sexual assault complaints against Chris Pincher before appointing him have been blown out the water’.
‘It is now clear that the PM knew about the seriousness of these complaints but decided to promote this man to a senior position in government anyway. He refused to act and then lied about what he knew,’ she added.
The Liberal Democrats also seized on the peer’s letter to call on the PM to ‘own up to his web of lies and finally come clean today’.
Senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, a critic of the PM, called for a response from Mr Johnson and No10 to Lord McDonald’s claims.
He told Sky News: ‘They need to understand the scale and the gravity of the story and, indeed, get ahead of it. It is dominating the news day-after-day-after-day.’
Mr Ellwood claimed ministers were being sent out to face the media with a briefing that ‘only lasts a number of hours until it has to be corrected’.
Lord McDonald continued his assault on No10 later this morning when he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It is very unusual for a retired official to do what I have done this morning.
‘I did it by myself, because what I have seen and read over the last few days I knew to be wrong. And you know, things get to a point where you have to do the right thing.’
He added: ‘First of all, No10 have had five full days to get the story correct and that has still not happened.’
The PM chaired a Cabinet meeting this morning focussed on the cost-of-living crisis while questions swirl about what he knew of Mr Pincher’s conduct before handing him a top role
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Tory chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris arrived in Downing Street for this morning’s Cabinet meeting
Tory rebel MPs, who last month attempted to use a no confidence vote to oust Mr Johnson from Number 10, have been emboldened to launch another effort to get rid of the PM in the wake of the fresh sleaze row.
They are plotting to change Conservative Party rules to allow Mr Johnson to soon face another no confidence vote.
This is despite the PM having won a contest on his leadership last month that granted him 12 months’ immunity from another challenge under current rules.
The rebel plot will see them try to secure key posts on the 1922 Committee, the powerful Tory body in charge of leadership contests, in a battle with PM loyalists.
But, with elections to the 1922 executive not due to be held until next week and MPs going their summer break later this month, Mr Johnson is set to be safe from another widespread revolt until the autumn.
The northern MP who warned Mr Johnson he would be out of office by Christmas predicted that the revolt against the PM’s leadership would ‘come to a head in the three weeks in September’ before the Tory conference in Birmingham.
They added that No10 might be hoping the summer recess would act as a firebreak to stem rebel efforts to force out Mr Johnson, but there was ‘no chance’ that would work.
One veteran Tory aide said No10’s bungling of the crisis had been ‘unbelievable’.
‘Their modus operandi has always been to issue flat out denials no matter what,’ they told MailOnline. ‘It is finally catching up with them.’
The PM chaired a Cabinet meeting this morning after being stung by a backlash from among his top ministers over his handling of the Pincher row.
It follows claims that Mr Johnson joked about the ‘handsy’ MP being ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’.
Mr Johnson will use today’s meeting to focus on the cost-of-living crisis causing misery for struggling Britons.
The PM will herald changes to the National Insurance thresholds – due to come into effect tomorrow – as ‘the single biggest tax cut in a decade’.
Mr Johnson said ahead of today’s Cabinet meeting: ‘Tomorrow is an important moment in our mission to ease the burden on households and rebuild our economy, as the single biggest tax cut in a decade comes into force.
‘The list of people who will benefit is vast – from hairdressers and care workers to receptionists – around 30 million British workers will save up to £330 a year on their National Insurance contributions.
‘But we’re not just providing help right now, we’re investing record sums in infrastructure, skills and technology to level up and raise productivity across the whole country.
‘Because that’s the responsible, long-term way to address the cost of living, keeping our borrowing and debt under control, so we don’t saddle our children with a massive mountain of debt, and paving the way for more tax cuts in the future.
‘That’s how my government will get our country through these tough times.’
It will be Mr Johnson’s latest attempt to move on from the fresh Tory sleaze row that broke out on his return to Britain last week after a nine-day stretch away from Westminster to attend Commonwealth, G7 and NATO summits.
It meant Mr Johnson escaped the fall-out from two bruising by-elections defeats.
But the PM returned to the UK at the end of last week to even more domestic strife with the resignation of Mr Pincher as Tory deputy chief whip.
Mr Pincher last week resigned as deputy chief whip after he admitted ’embarrassing himself and others’ after drinking ‘far too much’ at the Carlton Club, a posh London watering hole popular with Conservatives
What are the claims facing Chris Pincher?
Chris Pincher resigned as Tory deputy chief whip after he last week admitted he ‘drank far too much’ and ’embarrassed myself and other people’.
It followed claims he had drunkenly groped two men at the Carlton Club, the Conservative Party members’ club in London on Wednesday night.
The Tamworth MP has vowed to ‘cooperate fully’ with an official investigation by a parliamentary watchdog.
But a slew of other allegations have also now emerged about Mr Pincher, which he denies, including:
– In an incident around 2012, a man in his early 20s said he received unwanted sexual attention from Mr Pincher at an event in London
– A former parliamentary researcher has told how Mr Pincher threatened to report her to her boss when she tried to block his pestering of a young man at Conservative Party conference in 2013
– Another alleged incident in 2013 involving a young man who had passed out in Mr Pincher’s London flat. It is claimed he woke up with the politician on top of him
– A 2017 incident in which Mr Pincher is claimed to have put his hand on another MP’s inner thigh.
– A charity fundraiser claimed that Mr Pincher groped his thigh and bottom as they posed for a photo in 2018
– A young Tory activist has alleged the MP massaged his shoulders and attempted to undo his shirt at a private property in 2019
– A claim that Mr Pincher made a unwanted advance to a young Tory member at the party’s conference in 2019, while describing how he could help his political career
– An alleged unwanted advance made by the MP toward a young Tory activist at the party’s 2021 conference
– A young Tory activist has claimed he was ‘touched up’ by Mr Pincher in a car in 2021