Chris Pincher loses whip over grope claims as Douglas Ross warns 'sexual harassment must have no place' in politics

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has declared “sexual harassment must have no place” in politics as former Tory deputy chief whip Chris Pincher had the whip removed following claims he groped two men.

Number 10 had repeatedly dodged questions on whether Mr Pincher would lose the whip, only to remove it late on Friday pending an investigation.

The Tamworth MP quit on Thursday after a drunken incident in which he allegedly groped two male guests at a London private member’s club.

Downing Street had initially sought to rally around the MP. Guto Harri, the Downing Street director of communications, is understood to have initially told staff Mr Pincher was vulnerable and had lost his career, so they should all "think about how he feels" today.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross. Picture: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

Mr Ross later demanded Mr Pincher’s expulsion from the party amid a growing backlash over Boris Johnson’s failure to act.

Mr Johnson was also facing questions over the appointment in the first place, with Downing Street seemingly aware of allegations against the former deputy chief whip.

However, a No 10 spokesman said the Prime Minister had not been made aware of anything that would have prevented the appointment going ahead.

A spokesman said: “In the absence of any formal complaints, it was not appropriate to stop an appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.”

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Downing Street confirmed there had been an exchange of messages between Mr Johnson and Mr Pincher on Thursday evening, but declined to say whether it was before or after Mr Pincher submitted his resignation.

A No 10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister thinks it was right for him to have resigned and he has accepted his resignation.

“He believes that the behaviour was unacceptable, which is why he’s accepted the resignation.”

Mr Johnson was under pressure to explain why he gave Mr Pincher such a sensitive post amid reports that he had been advised not to do so.

The Tamworth MP was brought in alongside chief whip Chris Heaton-Harris in February to shore up support for the Prime Minister amid growing unrest among Tory MPs over ‘Partygate’.

However, Mr Pincher had previously quit the whips office in 2017 after a complaint over an unwanted pass at the former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story.

Mr Pincher was reinstated two months later as a senior whip by former prime minister Theresa May after having referred himself to both the police and the Conservative Party complaints procedure.

Asked whether Mr Johnson had been warned about his latest appointment – following a spell at the Foreign Office – the No 10 spokesman said: “He was not aware of any specific allegations.”

Responding to the scandal, the Scottish Tory leader had immediately called for the whip to be removed.

Mr Ross said: “He should no longer be in the party – just as Patrick Grady should have been sacked by the SNP.

"Sexual harassment must have no place in any political party.”

Mr Ross issued the blunt assessment in the wake of condemning the SNP over the sexual misconduct case involving MP Patrick Grady.

Mr Grady, the SNP MP for Glasgow North, was found by an independent panel to have touched and stroked the neck, hair and back of a colleague 17 years his junior at a social event in 2016.

Audio was later leaked of a meeting of the SNP group at Westminster, in which group leader Ian Blackford could be heard saying he was “very much looking forward to welcoming Patrick back into the group next week”

Mr Ross had branded the case as “a deep, systemic problem” in Scotland’s governing party.

Meanwhile, the only two women Tory MPs to chair Commons select committees – Caroline Nokes and Karen Bradley – have called for a policy of “zero tolerance” for any such alleged conduct, with any MP facing such allegations having the Conservative whip withdrawn while they are investigated.

In a joint letter to the Prime Minister, they said: “The party and, by extension, the Government are at risk of serious reputational damage by the current approach.

“We urge you to act swiftly to introduce a code of conduct for all Conservative members of Parliament which is clear in terms of the expectations of behaviour and which can be applied in a fair, independent manner so as to avoid any suspicion of bias.

"In the meantime we ask that you employ a policy of zero tolerance on these issues and to ensure a thorough investigation is carried out in each and every case.

“Once an investigation has been completed, a decision should be taken about returning the whip, but in the meantime, anyone subject to such an investigation should not be allowed to sit as a Conservative MP and represent the party in any capacity.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner accused Mr Johnson of being “dragged kicking and screaming into taking any action at all”.

"He just can’t be trusted to do the right thing,” she said. “This whole scandal is yet more evidence of his appalling judgement. It’s time for Conservative MPs to show this chaotic Prime Minister the door before he can do any more damage."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper had earlier said Mr Pincher should have the whip suspended while a full investigation is carried out.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “These allegations are really serious. This is about sexual assault.

“The idea that the response that we’ve seen that the Prime Minister thinks he’s done the decent thing by resigning and there’s no need for an investigation, well, that’s a total disgrace.”

Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain agreed Mr Pincher should have had the whip withdrawn while a full investigation was carried out.

She said: “Given the seriousness of these allegations, it’s difficult to see how Chris Pincher can continue as an MP.

“Boris Johnson also has serious questions to answer over why he appointed Chris Pincher to a role with important safeguarding responsibilities despite concerns about him having already been raised.”

The disgraced MP Neil Parish also warned Conservatives not to show “double standards”.

The former Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, who formally resigned in May after admitting he had watched pornography twice on his phone in Parliament, said: “The first thing they did to me, and I made a huge mistake, is that they withdrew the whip. There cannot be double standards.

“My belief is that Christopher Pincher has things to be answered for. The whip must be withdrawn and he has the opportunity then to go before the parliamentary standards board to see what his conduct actually was – those that were affected can also give evidence.”

In his resignation letter to the Prime Minister, Mr Pincher apologised for his behaviour, saying it had been “the honour of my life” to have served in the Government.

He said: “Last night I drank far too much. I’ve embarrassed myself and other people which is the last thing I want to do and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned”.

Tory MP Kelly Tolhurst was appointed as his replacement late on Friday.

Scotland Yard said it had not received any reports of an incident at the club.

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