Boris Johnson has been forced into a humiliating apology over his handling of the Chris Pincher row after it emerged he had forgotten about being told of previous allegations of “inappropriate” conduct.
Mr Pincher quit as deputy chief whip last week following claims that he groped two men at a private members’ club, but Mr Johnson was told about allegations against him as far back as 2019.
The Prime Minister acknowledged he should have sacked Mr Pincher when he was told about the claims against him when he was a Foreign Office minister in 2019, but instead Mr Johnson went on to appoint him to other government roles.
If I had my time again I would think back on it and recognise that he wasn’t going to learn a lesson and he wasn’t going to change and I regret that.Boris Johnson
Asked if that was an error, Mr Johnson said: “I think it was a mistake and I apologise for it. In hindsight it was the wrong thing to do.
“I apologise to everybody who has been badly affected by it. I want to make absolutely clear that there’s no place in this Government for anybody who is predatory or who abuses their position of power.”
Speaking to reporters in his Commons office he did not deny joking: “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature.”
He said: “What I can tell you is that, if I look at the background of this and why I regret it so much, is that about three years ago there was a complaint made against Chris Pincher in the Foreign Office, the complaint was cleared up, he apologised.
“It was raised with me, orally, I was briefed on what had happened. If I had my time again I would think back on it and recognise that he wasn’t going to learn a lesson and he wasn’t going to change and I regret that.
“It was something that was only raised with me very cursorily but I wish that we had – I, in particular – had acted on it and that he had not continued in government because he then went on, I’m afraid, to behave – as far as we can see, according to the allegations that we have – very, very badly.”
The Prime Minister spoke to reporters as he faced a mounting Tory backlash over his handling of the row.
Mr Johnson’s authority has already been weakened by a confidence vote which saw 41% of his MPs try to oust him, amid lingering anger over the partygate scandal.