Pincher and Johnson are united but powerless in wanting to avoid another by-election

Politics

Chris Pincher’s statement breaking his silence on allegations of drunken groping was both contrite and defiant.

It was contrite because he pledged co-operation with the inquiry now being undertaken by the Commons sleaze watchdog, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.

But it was defiant because he served notice that he has no intention of quitting as an MP and hopes to be back fulfilling his duties as soon as possible.

Mr Pincher began his statement by saying he respects Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend the Tory whip while an inquiry is under way. Well, he has no choice about that.

The chief whip, Chris Heaton-Harris, has confirmed that at least one complaint has been made to the ICGS against him. And since Mr Pincher is accused of groping two men at the Carlton Club on Wednesday evening there may now also be a second complaint.

Pleading contrition, Mr Pincher repeated his admission – first made in his resignation letter on Thursday evening – that he “drank far too much” at the Carlton Club, “embarrassing myself and others”. And he repeated that he was “truly sorry”.

Image:
Mr Pincher’s resignation letter

But then, intriguingly, he spoke of “the stresses of the last few days”, obviously a reference to the lurid and colourful allegations about not only his night of shame on Wednesday but also renewed scrutiny of the “pound shop Harvey Weinstein” incident that forced him to resign as a government whip in 2017.

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He may also have been referring to the widespread criticism of Boris Johnson for his decision to appoint him as deputy chief whip in February this year when there were claims that his conduct generally made him unsuitable for the job.

Then Mr Pincher, even more intriguingly, spoke of stresses “over the last several months”. This almost certainly refers to the stress of his key role – as one of Mr Johnson’s inner circle of ultra-loyalists – in defending the Prime Minister against moves to remove him during the partygate controversy and in the build-up to the vote of confidence in the Prime Minister last month.

His announcement that he is seeking professional medical support no doubt means he is getting help for a drink problem, since by his own admission he “drank far too much” and there have been highly damaging accounts of his state of intoxication at the Carlton Club on Wednesday evening.

But Mr Pincher’s statement ended in a note of defiance, aimed at those MPs calling for him to quit and trigger a by-election. He hopes to return to his constituency duties “as soon as possible”, he declared.

That, however, is almost certainly out of his hands. The investigation may take some time, depending on the number of complainants and witnesses.

And if the outcome is a suspension from the Commons, there is likely to be a recall petition in Tamworth which could trigger a by-election which he and Boris Johnson – after his bungled attempt to save Owen Paterson – would be powerless to prevent.

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