Tory men do not have particular problem with sexual harassment, says cabinet minister

‘I don’t think that’s the case at all’: Therese Coffey denies party has issue following series of scandals

Boris Johnson ‘did not know’ about Chris Pincher’s claims, Cabinet minister says

Male Conservatives do not have a particular problem with sexual harassment, cabinet minister Therese Coffey has said in the wake of the latest misconduct scandal engulfing the party.

Tory MP Chris Pincher – who quit as deputy chief whip and was suspended by his party over allegations he groped two men in Westminster this week – faces six further claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Boris Johnson is also under growing pressure over his decision to give Mr Pincher a ministerial role amid claims the prime minister referred to him as “Pincher by name, pincher by nature”.

Ms Coffey defended the PM and denied the Tories had a particular problem, despite being reminded that five Tory male MPs have been suspended or had to resign in the past year over sexual misconduct allegations.

Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday if there was problem with Conservative men, the work and pensions secretary sighed, before saying: “I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed Mr Johnson had referred to the MP “laughingly in No 10 as ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’ long before appointing him”.

Downing Street did not deny that there had been concerns about Mr Pincher before his appointment as deputy chief whip in February, but insisted Mr Johnson “was not aware of any specific allegations”.

Asked if the PM knew about concerns over Mr Pincher, Ms Coffey said: “I’m not aware that [Mr Johnson] was made aware of specific claims. I don’t believe that he was aware – that’s what I’ve been told today.”

Grilled on the BBC Sunday Morning programme about who told her Mr Johnson did not know any specifics, Ms Coffey replied: “Somebody from the No 10 press office. One gets briefed on a wide variety of topics.”

Ms Coffey also said she “wished” people who work in parliament went to the police more often with sexual misconduct claims – but did not think it was necessary to close parliament’s bars or make any other “specific changes” to protect staff.

Mr Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip on Friday following claims that he groped two men at the Tories’ Carlton Club on Wednesday. He admitted that he had “embarrassed myself and other people” while being drunk, but denies sexual harassment allegations.

It come as one Conservative MP told The Independent he was groped on two occasions by Mr Pincher. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the man claims he was targeted twice by the MP, first in December 2021 and again last month.

The Mail on Sunday reported claims that he threatened to report a parliamentary researcher to her boss after she tried to stop his “lecherous” advances to a young man at a Tory party conference.

The Sunday Times reported allegations that Mr Pincher had groped a male Tory MP in 2017, made unwanted advances towards a different Tory MP in 2018, and did the same towards a Tory activist in Tamworth in 2019.

Mr Pincher denies all the allegations. The claims followed his first resignation as a whip in 2017 over claims he made unwanted advances to Olympic rower Alex Story. After a Tory party investigation into the incident, he was cleared of any breach of its code of conduct.

Ex-deputy chief whip Chris Pincher

One of the latest alleged victims shared his anger at Mr Johnson over his handling of the allegations at the exclusive Carlton Club on Wednesday.

The man told the Sunday Times that he initially did not want to report the alleged incident, thinking “this is something that happens in Westminster”.

He added: “But I am angered by the fact that I should feel like that, and even more angry by the way No 10 have dealt with it . . . I am furious. I know it sounds really silly but I felt shell-shocked when I found out they were initially going to let him keep the whip.”

The PM’s decision to appoint Mr Pincher in February sparked the resignation of senior whip Craig Whittaker, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

A senior government source said: “He remonstrated over Pincher’s putative behaviour. He refused to serve. There was considerable ill feeling in the whips’ office about Pincher’s appointment.”

But Mr Whittaker said in a statement issued by the whips’ office that he left his role as a government whip earlier this year over health issues, rather than any concerns about Mr Pincher’s behaviour.

Mr Pincher said in a statement on Saturday that he is seeking “professional medical support” and would co-operate fully with the inquiry into his alleged behaviour at the private members’ club in London.

Labour’s shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News that the Tories had been motivated by “what is politically expedient over what is right” in Mr Pincher’s case.

Former Tory cabinet minister Justine Greening said she backed calls from senior Tories Caroline Nokes and Karen Bradley for a new, “clear” code of conduct for the party’s MPs. She told Sky News it would prevent the prime minister “having to just decide on the hoof in each specific case” of wrongdoing.

Tory party councillors in Mr Pincher’s Midlands constituency have called on the MP to resign his seat. “He’s already had a second chance and there shouldn’t be any way back for him this time, especially as he’s admitted behaving badly,” one told the Sunday Telegraph.

Meanwhile, former Tory chairman Lord Kenneth Baker said it is “unlikely” Boris Johnson was “the right man” to lead the party – criticising his hesitation in removing the whip from Mr Pincher.

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