LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is dealing with another boozy scandal after the deputy chief whip resigned from his post and then was suspended by the Conservative Party over a drunken incident in which he reportedly groped two men at an event.
Chris Pincher, whose role was to maintain discipline among Tory members of Parliament, submitted a letter of resignation to Johnson on Thursday.
“I drank far too much" on Wednesday night, Pincher said in the letter. “I’ve embarrassed myself and other people, which is the last thing I want to do, and for that I apologize to you and to those concerned.”
But he said in his letter that he would remain as a Conservative lawmaker and continue to support Johnson from the back benches of Parliament. That prompted fury from the opposition and even among some Conservative Party lawmakers.
Johnson at first resisted calls to suspend Pincher from the party before bowing to the pressure by Friday evening after a formal complaint was made to an independent investigative body.
A Conservative Party spokeswoman said Johnson had agreed that Pincher should be suspended — meaning he can't sit in Parliament among the Tory benches.
The scandal added to the prime minister’s mounting troubles, with Britain’s main opposition Labour Party criticizing Johnson for not suspending Pincher right away.
“Boris Johnson has been dragged kicking and screaming into taking any action at all,” Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said. “He just can’t be trusted to do the right thing. This whole scandal is yet more evidence of his appalling judgment.”
Johnson survived a no-confidence vote last month triggered by lawmakers from his own party, but emerged weakened since more than 40% of Conservatives voted against him.
Most of the discontent with Johnson's leadership centered around investigations into boozy parties held in government buildings when coronavirus lockdowns prohibited group gatherings. In April, a Conservative lawmaker resigned for watching pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.
After returning from this week's Group of Seven and NATO summits, Johnson was looking to put those embarrassments — and his party's defeat in two special parliamentary elections — behind him.
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden quit last week after the Tories lost the two seats in the byelections, saying the party “cannot carry on with business as usual.” But Johnson has remained defiant amid appeals for his own resignation and said he wouldn’t call an early election. The next general election must be called by 2024.
British tabloid The Sun reported that Pincher groped two men Wednesday night at a private members club. London's Metropolitan Police force said it hadn't yet received any reports of assault at the event.
It was the second time that Pincher, 52, quit a government whip job. In November 2017, he resigned as a junior whip after a complaint that he made an unwanted pass at former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story.
But Prime Minister Theresa May brought him back into a government position in 2018 by making him deputy chief whip. When Johnson took over in July 2019, Pincher was moved to the Foreign Office as a junior minister before returning to the whips' office again.
The Labour Party said that Johnson's government had questions to answer about why Pincher was put into the position in the first place.
“This latest episode shows how far standards in public life have been degraded on Boris Johnson’s watch,” said Rayner, the Labour deputy leader. "The Conservative Party is so mired in sleaze and scandal that it is totally unable to tackle the challenges facing the British people.”