Tory minister sacked over ‘inappropriate behaviour’ at party conference

Dismissal follows series of sleaze allegations against senior Conservatives, including Chris Pincher scandal that forced out Boris Johnson

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 07 October 2022 19:54 BST
Conor Burns sacked from government following a complaint of 'serious misconduct'

A government minister has been sacked after allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” at the Conservative Party conference this week.

Conor Burns, a trade minister, first had the whip removed by the party – and, within minutes, No 10 announced he had been told to “leave the government with immediate effect”.

The MP for Bournemouth West, who was a very close ally of Boris Johnson during his time in Downing Street, said he looked “forward to clearing my name”.

His sacking follows a series of sleaze allegations against senior Conservatives, including of groping by the deputy chief whip Chris Pincher – the scandal that forced Mr Johnson out of No 10.

Neil Parish resigned from the Commons after he admitted watching porn in the chamber – and another, unnamed Tory MP is currently on bail over allegations of rape.

There are ongoing inquiries into David Warburton, the Conservative MP suspended over allegations of sexual harassment and cocaine use.

The Independent, meanwhile, revealed how Liz Truss accepted help during her leadership campaign from a former government minister accused of sexual harassment, according to No 10 sources.

The prime minister not only knew about the allegations – denied by the politician – but suggested that he might make a return to serve in her government, officials said.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, seized on Mr Burns’ sacking as evidence that the new government “is already beset by scandal”, pointing to Ms Truss’s refusal to appoint an ethics adviser.

“This deeply disturbing revelation is the latest in a long line of serious misconduct allegations, and raises serious questions – not only about yet another minister – but about the prime minister’s judgement in refusing to appoint an independent ethics adviser,” she said.

“For those who hoped Liz Truss would turn the page on years of Tory sleaze, we’re already seeing more of the same.”

Mr Burns confirmed his suspension, in a series of tweets that criticised a “rush to judgement” and demanded that the party’s inquiry be concluded with similar speed.

“I was not given any information about the complaint nor was I asked to provide any information,” he said about a phone call from Wendy Morton, the chief whip.

He added: “I will fully cooperate with the party’s enquiry and look forward to clearing my name. I hope the party will be as quick to conduct their enquiry as they were to rush to judgement.”

But a No 10 spokesperson said: “Following a complaint of serious misconduct, the prime minister has asked Conor Burns MP to leave the government with immediate effect.

“The prime minister took direct action on being informed of this allegation and is clear that all ministers should maintain the high standards of behaviour – as the public rightly expects.”

A spokesperson for the whips’ office said: “We have suspended the whip pending investigation into allegations of inappropriate behaviour earlier this week.”

It is understood that a third party went to No 10 with testimony about an incident they witnessed – rather than the sacking following a complainant coming forward.

The instant dismissal appeared to be a clear attempt to act in stark contrast to the way Mr Johnson allowed the Pincher scandal to be dragged out, as No 10 misled journalists about the background to it.

The LGBT+ Conservatives group reacted to Mr Burns’ sacking by saying it “suspended his patronage “pending the conclusion of investigations.

It is the second time Mr Burns has been forced to resign from the same department. In 2020, he was found to have used his position to try to intimidate a member of the public.

On that occasion, the Commons standards committee censured him for making a series of veiled threats while attempting to intervene in dispute over a loan involving his father.

The Prospect union, which represents staff in parliament, welcomed the suspension, but warned there is nothing to prevent Mr Burns continuing to enter his workplace.

“It highlights once again that no formal mechanism exists to prevent MPs accused of this kind of serious misconduct from attending Westminster and interacting with staff, other MPs, visitors and school groups,” said general secretary Mike Clancy.

Mr Burns made headlines at the conference in Birmingham when he mocked the prime minister over her record on post-Brexit trade deals and anointed a rival as “the future of our party”.

At a fringe meeting, he suggested Ms Truss’s time as trade secretary – when she became notorious for her social media output – was a tale of style over substance.

He praised Kemi Badenoch, the new trade secretary, saying: “Kemi totally gets that trade needs to move beyond Instagram posts about free-trade agreements and needs to actually focus on delivering.”

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