Clearly, we’ve expected too much of Boris Johnson on the Chris Pincher scandal

Johnson couldn’t possibly have known that a man he used to refer to as ‘Pincher by name, Pincher by nature’ had ever actually done anything wrong, even though he’d been personally briefed on the subject

Tom Peck
Tuesday 05 July 2022 17:06 BST
Boris Johnson not aware of 'any substantiated complaints' against Pincher, Raab says

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Where do they think it’s going to end, all this? What do they, by which I mean all of the other members of the government, think is going to be the outcome for them? Johnson is finished, they must know that. And yet, on they all go, day after day, week after week, publicly humiliating themselves in defence of a man who they must surely know would never, ever do the same for them, and from whom no good, now, is ever going to come?

Dominic Raab does not come across as a man who, in his private moments, has an especially deep reservoir of Zen-like calm to call upon. What is he saying to himself, to his friends? What are the voices in his head shouting at him when he gets to the end of yet another agonising humiliation on the TV channels and radio stations, doing his level best to style out the absurd lies of a man who, he must surely know by now, is not telling him the truth?

Even by Raab’s incomparably low standards, Tuesday morning’s efforts were off-the-scale terrible. Obviously no one is surprised that we are now into day five on the subject of How Much Did Boris Johnson Know (and how little did he care) about the utterly notorious sex pest he appointed deputy chief whip and who has now resigned?

Raab was shuttling between Good Morning Britain, and Times Radio, and the Today programme, as they all do, trying his best to style out Friday’s lie, that the prime minister “wasn’t aware” of allegations against Chris Pincher, which in the last two days were gently tweaked, first to not being aware of any “specific allegations” to any “specific serious allegations.” Which naturally suggests he may have been aware of some minor, low-level groping, or just a bit of general harassment but,  you know, nothing major,

As Raab scurried from building to building, a bombshell landed on him but, fortunately or unfortunately, he was too thick-skulled to notice. The former chief civil servant at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon McDonald, published a letter making it entirely clear that, three years ago, he had had to investigate complaints of inappropriate behaviour against Pincher, which he described as “similar in nature” to events at the Carlton Club, at which Pincher is alleged to have drunkenly groped two men. Those complaints were upheld and the prime minister was briefed personally.

Still, on Raab went. Telling whoever was listening that Johnson didn’t know. That Pincher hadn’t been found “guilty” of anything, as Susanna Reid told him on Good Morning Britain. And then the two of them did a little semantic tango, which concluded with Raab accepting that a complaint for inappropriate behaviour had been upheld, but also maintaining that that didn’t mean he had done anything wrong.

The foreign secretary at that time, by the way, was one Dominic Raab. He’s now deputy prime minister. So the line the country are expected to believe is that despite both men being informed, clearly, about Pincher’s behaviour, neither of them saw fit not to appoint him as deputy chief whip. In Johnson’s case, this was because he wasn’t aware of the information he had personally been told.

By noon it would, yet again, be the paymaster general Michael Ellis’s job to come to the despatch box and defend the indefensible. Ellis, as well as being almost certainly the most obsequious man in Westminster, is also a QC. In the Cameron years, so desperate was he to get ahead that he once stood behind the door of the House of Commons for almost 20 full minutes, just so that he could open it for George Osborne when he saw him arrive.

What does Ellis think, in his private moments, of the role he has now assumed in public life, which is to be publicly shamed at unbelievably regular intervals, defending the prime minister’s lies at the despatch box of the House of Commons? There he has to stand, time and time again, claiming that Johnson is telling the truth, all the while knowing that if he should knowingly lie himself, then he would have to resign, thus rendering all that door-holding an even bigger waste of time.

But this most recent absurdity appeared too much for his burgeoning skills as a bulls*** artist. There he would claim that what must have happened is that Johnson must have “forgotten” that he had been briefed about clear and serious allegations against Pincher. And who could blame him, he is the prime minister after all, and he is therefore “told hundreds of things a day”.

That this was all perfectly fine, it all made perfect sense. Johnson couldn’t possibly have known that a man he used to refer to as “Pincher by name, Pincher by nature” had ever actually done anything wrong, because even though he’d been personally briefed on the subject, he gets told lots of things so no one should expect him to actually know anything.

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Ellis looked relieved when it was over, if not quite triumphant. In some ways, he should be more pleased with himself. He knows he’ll be back here in a week, explaining away some more recent lies about some other sex case. In one regard, Tuesday’s efforts were his most important.

He’s established the Ellis Defence now. The one where Boris Johnson definitely can’t be lying because he just gets told too many things to be able to tell the truth.

The main reason most of Johnson’s most loyal defenders are so faithful to him is because they know that once he goes, that’s their lot. Nadine Dorries, for example, must surely know there is not a lot she’ll be doing next. Even if you were the assistant manager of a motorway toll booth, you’d know that employing Dorries would be taking a bit of a punt.

Ellis, on the other hand, well, there can hardly be a criminal anywhere in the world who wouldn’t pay top whack for Ellis’s services now. Where it doesn’t matter what you say, or what you do, as long as you can claim that your real crime was just to know too much, and therefore nothing at all.

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