Boris Johnson “did not immediately recall” a conversation where he was told of concerns about Chris Pincher after fresh allegations of misconduct were made public, a minister has claimed.
It comes after former senior civil servant Simon McDonald accused No 10 of lying about what the Prime Minister knew about the MP.
On Monday, a Downing Street spokesperson told journalists that Johnson was not aware of any specific allegations against Pincher when he appointed him as Tory deputy chief whip in February this year.
However, in response to an urgent question from Labour in the Commons, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis confirmed that Johnson was told in “late 2019” about an incident concerning Pincher.
Ellis told MPs that a probe into the incident established that Pincher had caused a “high level of discomfort” to the complainant, leading to him issuing an apology.
But, Ellis defended the appointment, as he insisted that it is “not appropriate” to act on “unsubstantiated rumour” in response to questions on why Pincher was appointed to the deputy chief whip role earlier this year.
The issue was raised in Parliament by Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.
“What message does this send to the British people facing a cost-of-living crisis while their government is paralysed with scandal?”, Rayner asked.
“When will this minister stop defending the indefensible and say enough is enough?”
Ellis responded by setting out the timeline of events around the incident in 2019.
This incident was referred to by Lord McDonald in a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone, where he said that the complaint against Pincher had been investigated by officials, with Johnson informed of the outcome.
“In October 2019, officials raised concerns with the permanent secretary concerning the member in question,” Ellis told the Commons.
“The permanent secretary commissioned work to establish facts, that was undertaken on his behalf by the Cabinet Office.
“This exercise reported in due course to the then-permanent secretary, who had agreed its terms.
“The exercise established that while the minister meant no harm, what had occurred caused a high level of discomfort. This is what the exercise established.
“The minister apologised and those raising the concern accepted the resolution.”
Ellis continued: “The Prime Minister was made aware of this issue in late 2019.
“He was told that the permanent secretary had taken the necessary action. No issue therefore arose about remaining as a minister.
“And last week when fresh allegations arose, the Prime Minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about this incident.
“As soon as he was reminded, the Number 10 press office corrected their public lines.
“So the position is quite clear. Further enquires will be made, but the position is that the Prime Minister acted with probity at all times.
“It is not appropriate, whether in private life or in public life, to act on unsubstantiated rumour.”