Memory loss? Pressure increases on Britain's Boris Johnson over ex-minister

British PM Boris Johnson (left) is accused of lying over what he knew when he appointed Mr Christopher Pincher. PHOTOS: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - Mr Boris Johnson was under further pressure on Tuesday (July 5) after his office was forced to concede the British leader had forgotten that he was briefed about an earlier complaint of sexual misconduct against one of his ministers.

After being accused of lying over what he knew when he appointed Mr Christopher Pincher to a role involved in offering pastoral care in the Conservative Party, his office was forced into a quick about-turn to say he had been briefed in "some form" about the case but had not recalled it last week.

The allegation of lying and the loss of memory does little to relieve months of pressure on Mr Johnson, who faces growing frustration among his governing Conservative Party over what some say is a scandal-ridden administration.

No. 10 'still not telling the truth'

Some Conservative lawmakers are trying to renew attempts to unseat him, just a month after the prime minister survived a confidence vote.

The main opposition Labour Party accused Mr Johnson of "dragging British democracy through the muck".

"No. 10 keep changing their story and are still not telling the truth," Mr Simon McDonald, who served as permanent under-secretary to the Foreign Office at the time Mr Pincher was a junior minister there, said in a tweet with a letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards he posted on the site.

Mr McDonald, a British diplomat for decades and now a member of the Upper House of Parliament who would rarely speak out on internal government matters, said there was an investigation into Mr Pincher in 2019 and that "Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation".

His letter prompted Cabinet Office Minister Michael Ellis to tell Parliament that when the new allegations were made last week, "the prime minister did not immediately recall the conversation in late 2019 about the incident".

Mr Johnson's spokesman said the same, adding "sometimes it can take some time to establish what happened particularly on issues that relate to a number of years ago".

He added he was not sure whether the foreign office allegation had been considered at the time of Mr Pincher's appointment.

Labour's deputy leader, Ms Angela Rayner, said Mr Johnson's "desperate attempts to cover up what he knew… have been blown out the water", criticising him for "dragging British democracy through the muck".

Sexual misconduct

Mr Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip last week, saying he had drunk too much, embarrassed himself and "caused upset" to people.

British media reported that Mr Pincher had sexually assaulted two male guests at a London club. Newspapers have since reported he had faced several previous allegations of sexual misconduct.

His office said Mr Pincher, who has been suspended by the Conservative Party, was now on a leave of absence focusing on receiving medical support and could not be reached.

Last week, Mr Johnson's office said the prime minister was not aware of any specific complaints against Mr Pincher before appointing him.

On Monday, his spokesman said he was aware of "some allegations that were either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint".

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time of the 2019 complaint against Mr Pincher, said on Tuesday it had not resulted in formal disciplinary action, and that he was not aware Mr Johnson had been told about it.

Changing the rules

The changing explanations and new accusations of lying at the heart of power have only added to frustrations among Conservative lawmakers, who failed to remove the prime minister at a confidence vote last month following a series of scandals, including a damning official report about Covid-19 lockdown-breaking parties at his official residence.

Several so-called rebels are now trying to change the rules to try to force another confidence vote before the 12-month grace period usually honoured after such a ballot, while others are calling on ministers to turn on the prime minister.

Lawmaker Roger Gale, a critic of Mr Johnson, said the McDonald letter had changed his view and he would back another vote.

"My personal view is that this prime minister has trashed the reputation of a proud and honourable party for honesty and decency and that is not acceptable, it cannot go on like this," he said.

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