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Tuesday, July 5, 2022 proved to be a memorable day for Boris Johnson for all the wrong reasons.

Last weekend, details emerged of Conservative MP Chris Pincher’s inebriated groping of another man at the Carlton Club in London’s St James. The Carlton Club is the private members club for Conservatives. Chris Pincher had been a Government minister and Deputy Chief Whip.

Lest anyone think the furore about Chris Pincher and blaming Boris for it is about cleaning up government, the end goal remains: get rid of Boris because Boris represents Brexit.

Chris Pincher

Chris Pincher has been a Conservative MP since 2010, the year David Cameron became Prime Minister.

Theresa May gave him his first ministerial role, that of Comptroller of the Household, in 2017. A few months later, she appointed him Treasurer of the Household, the next move up from Comptroller of the Household. In 2018, he then became Deputy Chief Whip, which is a role given by the Chief Whip, not the Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson gave Pincher other ministerial roles. I watched him at the despatch box regularly as Minister of State for Europe and the Americas and Minister of State for Housing. In February 2022, he once again became Treasurer of the Household, a Boris appointment, and Deputy Chief Whip, a Chief Whip appointment.

Then the Carlton Club scandal broke, with Pincher freely admitting in writing what he had done. He has had the Conservative Party whip removed, although he remains an MP for now.

The question from Boris’s enemies is how much blame should the Prime Minister carry.

It looks to me as if it all started with Theresa May, especially as he resigned his 2017 appointment as Comptroller of the Household when sexual misconduct allegations involving MPs swirled into a scandal that year. Pincher was accused of misconduct at the time by then-MP Tom Blenkinsop and Olympic rower Alex Story.

Shortly afterwards, in January 2018, Pincher became Deputy Chief Whip, so the Whip’s office is partly responsible, too.

On July 5, the veteran journalist and columnist Charles Moore explained in The Telegraph how the Whips Office selection process works (purple emphases mine):

The coverage of the row about Chris Pincher, the allegedly groping and confessedly drunk former deputy chief whip, suffers from a false premise. It is said that Boris Johnson appointed him. This is true only in a formal sense. I feel that lobby [press corps] journalists should have made this clear.

This custom is not just a reflection of the fact that any prime minister pays less attention to junior appointments than to Cabinet-level ones. It is also – and mainly – because the whips are a law unto themselves. The idea is that they will know best how to achieve the necessary geographical and ideological spread to look after all sections of the party. The Chief Whip is therefore free – “100 per cent” in the words of one former chief to me – to appoint whoever he thinks fit. This seems sensible: how on earth would a prime minister know that level of detail about who’s who in the parliamentary party? Backbenchers would be suspicious of a whips’ office filled with a prime minister’s favourites.

Each prime minister sees the government chief whip’s list before it is announced and is free to comment on it, but the chief decides. So Boris Johnson would have been breaking the unwritten rules if he had either forbidden or insisted on Mr Pincher’s appointment. If it can be shown that he did the latter, he is in a bit of trouble on the issue. If not, then not.

Lord McDonald

Until July 5, I had never heard of the life peer Baron McDonald of Salford, or Simon to his friends.

Lord McDonald was the Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office between 2015 and 2020.

On July 5, he wrote to Kathryn Stone OBE, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for the House of Commons.

Guido Fawkes posted a copy of the letter, which takes issue with a BBC report of complaints made against Pincher and says that, indeed, allegations had been raised against the MP in 2019.

Two brief excerpts of his letter follow.

In the summer of 2019, after Pincher received his first ministerial appointment (at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) under Boris Johnson:

… a group of officials complained to me about Mr Pincher’s behaviour. I discussed the matter with the relevant official at the Cabinet Office … An investigation upheld the complaint; Mr Pincher apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour. There was no repetition at the FCO before he left seven months later.

The BBC had changed the text of their present-day article about whether Boris knew or not.

Lord McDonald’s letter says:

Mr Johnson was briefed in person about the initiation and outcome of the investigation. There was a “formal complaint”. Allegations were “resolved” only in the sense that the investigation was completed; Mr Pincher was not exonerated. To characterise the allegations as “unsubstantiated” is therefore wrong.

I am aware that it is unusual to write to you and simultaneously publicise the letter. I am conscious of the duty owed to the target of an investigation but I act out of my duty towards the victims. Mr Pincher deceived me and others in 2019 …

He tweeted the text of his letter:

Hmm.

Could there be any bad blood between McDonald and Boris?

Downing Street claims that Boris forgot about the investigation into Pincher.

A commenter on Guido’s post about this claim makes pertinent points:

I find it strange that the criticism is of the appointment of Pincher as Deputy Chief Whip in February. He wasn’t promoted from the backbenches, he was already a minister in the Dept of Levelling Up. If he was unsuitable for ministerial office in Feb, he must have been unsuitable in Jan, so why the focus on the Feb appointment?

Lord MacDonald is another nasty CS mandarin in the Philip Ruttnam mould. His letter is very carefully phrased but disingenuous. If he was unhappy for Pincher to continue as a minister in the FCO for seven months after the 2019 complaint, what did he do about it? If he was content with the arrangement, then clearly the matter was indeed resolved.

Pincher was first appointed to the Whips’ Office by Theresa May. Is anyone in the MSM questioning her judgement?

Gordon Rayner’s Telegraph article, ‘Lord McDonald: The former civil servant who “never saw eye to eye” with Boris Johnson’ has an account of what happened between the peer and Boris, the then-Foreign Secretary during Theresa May’s premiership:

A former civil servant publicly accusing a Prime Minister of lying is a rare event, but Baron McDonald of Salford is unlikely to have had any pangs of guilt about calling out the man who effectively ended his career.

During his time as Boris Johnson’s Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, Lord McDonald – or Sir Simon, as he was thenwas suspected by Mr Johnson of running a spying operation and orchestrating damaging leaks about the then foreign secretary.

Mr Johnson believed that media stories accusing him of being lazy and failing to attend properly to his red boxes of ministerial papers were being briefed by Lord McDonald’s department. When the Foreign Office merged with the Department for International Development, Mr Johnson, by then Prime Minister, saw to it that Lord McDonald was squeezed out.

So when he had the chance to expose Mr Johnson’s Downing Street operation for what he says is a lie over the Chris Pincher affair – an undeniably important intervention – he is unlikely to have spent much time wrestling with his conscience.

Does Brexit enter into this? You bet it does:

“They never saw eye to eye,” said one former minister. “Simon never made a secret of the fact that he was a strong Remainer and he has always had big issues with Brexit.”

Another insider said:

“So it does feel a little bit as though Simon has been waiting three years to get his revenge, and has finally had his chance, notwithstanding the fact that what he says may well be true.”

Lord McDonald took early retirement in September 2020. Since then, he has spoken freely:

In March last year Lord McDonald, 61, was interviewed by the think tank UK In a Changing Europe, when he said he was one of three senior civil servants on a Downing Street “s— list” who were “all for the high jump”.

He said that he was “one of those that were soaked” by former Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings’ threat of a “hard rain” falling on Whitehall

Mr Johnson softened the blow by giving Lord McDonald a peerage, not an automatic appointment for retiring civil servants. But it has not prevented him from criticising the Prime Minister since then.

So now we know.

It is unlikely that Gordon Rayner’s article will be getting any traction in the media. Will GB News pick it up? I hope so.

McDonald’s letter sends Conservative MPs flying in all directions

Note that McDonald tweeted his letter at 7:30 a.m., just the right time to dictate the news narrative for the day.

And so it proved.

For those in the political bubble, BBC Radio 4’s Today show is required listening.

Guido has a summary of what happened. Deputy PM and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab gave an interview, followed by Lord McDonald (emphases in the original):

… Following ex-Foreign Office Permanent Secretary Sir Simon McDonald’s bombshell letter this morning, Dominic Raab had the task once again of spinning the latest unsustainable No.10 line to the press. Through plenty of coughing and spluttering, Raab insisted on the Today Programme that 

Aside from the Westminster rumour mill, any allegation that had resulted in formal disciplinary action… whilst there was inappropriate behaviour [from Pincher], it didn’t trip the wire into disciplinary action… the individual who made the complaint did not want formal disciplinary action taken.

Just minutes later, McDonald appeared on Today himself to once again take a sledgehammer to No.10’s line that Boris wasn’t briefed on Pincher’s behaviour in person in 2019, and Raab’s claims that since no “further disciplinary action” was taken, the matter was resolved:

I disagree with that, and I dispute the use of the word ‘resolved’… the complaint was upheld… Number 10 have had five full days to get the story correct, and that still has not happened… it’s sort of telling the truth and crossing your fingers at the same time and hoping people aren’t too forensic in their subsequent questioning.

In a matter of hours, the line has gone from “it’s not true” to “the PM didn’t know of any formal complaints”. Chaos.

In Downing Street that morning, a Cabinet meeting took place. Why cameras were allowed, I have no idea. What a silly thing to do, especially when all hell was breaking loose:

At lunchtime in the House of Commons, Michael Ellis, Minister for the Cabinet Office, had to answer an Urgent Question (UQ) from Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner about what Boris knew of Pincher:

This is the most succinct quote from Ellis:

As I have articulated, there was an exercise in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the matter, which I believe went on for several weeks. I need to confirm the details, because I had insufficient time to do so this morning, but as I say, there was an exercise, and it concluded to the satisfaction of all involved. That was within the Department and, it appears to me, before the Prime Minister was made aware.

One of Guido’s readers sums the matter up as follows:

1. Pincher’s conduct in 2019 was investigated and did not result in disciplinary action in 2019.

2. Independent advice was sought from Simon McDonald and the Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team, which also did not result in any form of disciplinary action.

3. The victim in 2019 DID NOT WANT aany disciplinary action against Pincher.

4. Pincher’s appointment to government had followed all set procedures, including oversight by an independent QC. Until this point, as Pincher had kept a clean disciplinary record up, there was no reason to block his appointment to government.

Boris would have no grounds to refuse Pincher’s appointment as there were no official disciplinary action against him up to that point, which is in line with the rules set out in Westminster.

All this drama over whether Boris knew of Pincher’s indescretions would not have changed anything in terms of his appointment to government as he had satisfied all the requirements in terms of pedigree (appointed by two PMs and vetting).

The Opposition benches were full for Ellis and the UQ.

Watching at home, I nearly applauded when Peter Bone got his chance to speak:

Recently, at a Brexit opportunities debate here, there were no Liberal Democrats and virtually no Labour Members. The only time they turn up here is to bash Boris. Does my right hon. and learned Friend think that our constituents in Northamptonshire, which we both represent, are more concerned about an MP they have never heard about, or the biggest tax reduction in decades, which will happen tomorrow?

Ellis replied:

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head, as usual. As he points out, Labour Members have made frequent requests for business in this House to be about not what our constituents primarily care about, but personalities. They do not raise the issue of policies, because when they do, they lose. Instead, they focus on personalities, and that has been the drive of the past six months.

Guido covered MPs’ reaction to the events of the day:

Number 10’s spin operation today after the McDonald letter has, unsurprisingly, gone down like a cup of cold sick with the Tory benches, including amongst Boris loyalists. Guido’s spoken to several MPs following the lobby briefing and Michael Ellis’s Urgent Question response, and they all agreed it was a “disaster“. One said it was “the last days of Rome”…

There were also raised eyebrows – and that’s putting it mildly – over No.10’s decision to allow cameras in to the Cabinet meeting this morning …

Where, one might ask, is the counter-attack? What is Downing Street doing to get on the front foot? What is CCHQ doing? MPs who are hardcore supporters of the Prime Minister are fed up. Trying to push the “biggest tax cut” talking point today won’t work to set the agenda when you put up the same taxes only a few months ago. If the government wants to shift the media’s focus on to the economy, what will they do that Starmer won’t? Tory MPs want a sense of purpose and direction, rather than constantly ricocheting at the hands of the media from one minor negative process story to another, that the general public doesn’t really care about… 

Chancellor and Health Secretary resign

Worse was to come later that afternoon.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid tendered his resignation, followed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak minutes later.

Some pundits say there was no connection between the resignations.

Others say that the two men are friends and agreed on a plan.

GB News covered the resignations and analysis all evening long. It was a good move. The shows were excellent.

In other news, Theresa May was at the opera with her husband Philip and friends:

Returning to GB News, the resignations happened just before Nigel Farage’s show at 7 p.m. Not surprisingly, Farage thinks that Boris should resign, something he has said many times before and will continue to say for weeks, if not months:

Farage used Guido’s video of that day’s Cabinet meeting:

Discussion continued on Mark Steyn’s show at 8 p.m. By the end of the show one hour later, Boris had appointed Steve Barclay as the new Health Secretary:

Dan Wootton came on at 9 p.m.:

By the time his show was halfway through, Nadhim Zahawi became the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. The conversation between him and Boris in No. 10 was a long one. Apparently, Zahawi was eager to relinquish his role as Education Secretary and really wanted the No. 11 job. Michelle Donelan is the new Education Secretary, having been Minister of State for Higher and Further Education from 2020 to 2022.

Boris deflected a crisis within three hours.

Guido has an ongoing list of other Cabinet resignations, which are, as I write, for minor posts. Red Wall MP Jonathan Gullis, once a staunch Boris supporter, was among that number. It should be noted that the main Cabinet appointees are still in place.

Unfortunately, during that time, Lord Frost, usually a voice for sanity, fell for the McDonald bait. He wrote an article for The Telegraph, ‘It is time for Boris Johnson to go’:

I resigned from the Government on a matter of principle. On Tuesday, Sajid Javid and Rishi Sunak did the same. Other Cabinet Ministers now need to consider whether they are truly happy with the current direction of travel.

Boris Johnson’s place in history is secure. He will be one of the past century’s most consequential prime ministers. If he leaves now, before chaos descends, that reputation is what will be remembered. If he hangs on, he risks taking the party and the Government down with him. That’s why it is time for him to go. If he does, he can still hand on to a new team, one that is determined to defend and seek the opportunities of Brexit, one that is able to win the next election convincingly. That is in the Conservative Party’s interest, in Leave voters’ interest, and in the national interest. It needs to happen.

PMQs on July 6 could have been worse. It was more of the same from the Opposition. On the Conservative benches, which were packed, only Tim Loughton, Gary Sambrook and David Davis (once again) rebelled, all saying that Boris should resign.

After PMQs, Sajid Javid was granted a statement about his resignation. Boris remained seated behind the despatch box. Javid put a big emphasis on ‘integrity’. He said that, for him, ‘loyalty and integrity’ were at loggerheads over the past few months, hence his resignation. He could no longer defend the indefensible, from Partygate to Pincher, especially to his constituents. He told his former Cabinet colleagues that not doing ‘something’ — i.e. resigning — would look bad. Boris left immediately afterwards to jeers of ‘Byeee, Boooris’ from the Opposition benches.

Lee Anderson withdraws support

In an unexpected development, Red Wall MP Lee Anderson has withdrawn his support for Boris:

Guido has the full text of Anderson’s letter, excerpted below:

With A Heavy Heart.

I have remained loyal to the Prime Minister since being elected in 2019.

However my position has changed over the past few days since the incident which led to the Deputy Chief Whip losing the party whip

I do not hold a position I can resign from so the only thing I can do is make my feelings known to my constituents and party members. This statement may upset some people and I am sure some people will be delighted with the demise of our PM but I have a job to do and I must do it with a clear conscience.

My focus has always been my constituents many of whom are friends, family and neighbours and my loyalty to them is paramount.

Finally, I will do all I can to make sure our party wins the next election to form a Government of low taxation and who will be tough on illegal immigration as I feel we could have done better, that said the thought of a Labour Government terrifies me so please keep the faith.

I hope that explains my position.

Perhaps he will throw his hat into the ring when the leadership contest begins in due course.

Meanwhile, Conservative voters are fuming

At home, Conservative voters are perplexed by the actions of what is supposed to be an orderly, no-nonsense Government. Most do not know who Chris Pincher is. They are interested in what Boris and his team are doing to improve our lives which, at the moment, isn’t much.

This is what we have at present, ably stated by a Guido Fawkes reader:

80 seat majority

1: Thousands of illegals being transported across the channel and housed in 4* hotels.

2: Petrol prices through the roof and unexploited known reserves in the North Sea

3: Hundreds of years of coal under our feet, coal fired power stations demolished

4: Fracking abandoned yet we could easily extract sufficient gas for our needs

5: Brexit Done! You’re having a laugh

6: Net zero! The future is frightening

Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera

Guido, thanks for the Muppet Show extract.

I couldn’t agree more.

The story continues. More to follow next week, no doubt.

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