BORIS Johnson was briefed “in person” about Chris Pincher’s misconduct, a former chief civil servant has said as he rubbished the Prime Minister’s pleas of ignorance.

According to Lord Simon McDonald, who has submitted a formal complaint to Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Kathryn Stone, Downing Street's explanation of events leading up to Pincher being reinstated as deputy chief whip in February is “not true”.

The Government, however, is sticking to its guns, with deputy prime minister Dominic Raab rejecting McDonald's account.

In a series of fresh claims, it is reported even Carrie Johnson raised concerns about the disgraced MP. The revelations have boosted rebel MPs' hopes of ousting their leader from office, with Conservatives reportedly "sickened" by the scandal.

On Tuesday, Raab confirmed that Pincher – who resigned last week over allegations he groped two men in a private members’ club – had been investigated in October 2019 while he was a foreign office minister.

The deputy PM claimed that it did not lead to any formal disciplinary action. He insisted that while he had informed the then chief whip about the investigation, he did not believe it was necessary to tell the Prime Minister.

Downing Street had said that while Johnson was aware of concerns about Pincher when he made him deputy chief whip in February, they had either been resolved or were unsubstantiated. The PM's official spokesman added: “There was no formal complaint at that time.”

The National: Disgraced MP Chris Pincher has been the subject of a string of allegations Disgraced MP Chris Pincher has been the subject of a string of allegations

McDonald dismissed those claims in an open letter to the parliamentary watchdog and the BBC, which has been published on social media. 

The former Foreign Office chief says in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher was made Europe minister, a group of officials in the Foreign Office had complained to him about his behaviour. He added an investigation into the allegations – which were "similar" to his alleged behaviour last week – had upheld the complaint.

McDonald explained Pincher apologised and promised not to repeat the inappropriate behaviour. There was no repetition at the Foreign Office before he left seven months later to become a housing minister, he added.

In a potentially damning rebuke for Downing Street, he writes: “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.”

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Raab, who was foreign secretary at the time of the complaint against Pincher, offered an alternative account of what happened as he was grilled repeatedly in the morning broadcast round. 

On the claim that Johnson was personally told about the Pincher investigation, the deputy PM said: "That’s news to me. It’s not clear to me that’s factually accurate. I have discussed this with the Prime Minister over the last 24 hours. It is not my understanding that he was directly briefed."

He said he asked McDonald to investigate a complaint of “inappropriate conduct” in October 2019.

He said the former Foreign Office chief concluded it did not warrant action under civil service disciplinary procedures, while the Cabinet Office ethics and propriety team said there was no case for proceeding under the ministerial code. Raab claims both he and McDonald spoke to Pincher “in no uncertain terms” about his behaviour.

But while he informed the then-chief whip, Mark Spencer, he did not believe there was any reason why Johnson would have been told. “I updated and reported back to the chief whip so that he was aware, given the wider responsibility the chief whip has, but I wouldn’t have expected – in relation to something which didn’t merit a formal process, let alone a sanction – to go directly to the Prime Minister,” the Tory minister told Times Radio.

In a particularly tetchy exchange with Good Morning Britain's Susanna Reid, Raab, who is also the Justice Secretary, refused to acknowledge that Pincher was found "guilty" of misconduct – despite admitting the complaint was upheld. 

"The fact of the matter is, a complaint of inappropriate behaviour was made, an investigation was undertaken and the complaint was upheld," Reid said.

Raab replied: "I agree with that. It's your use of the word guilty..."

Reid interjected: "Was he guilty of inappropriate behaviour or not?"

"He was found ... the claim was found to be substantiated," the Tory minister said, but he refused to admit Pincher was "guilty" of inappropriate behaviour. "Guilty is a very loaded term," he explained. 

Pincher, whose responsibilities as deputy chief whip included looking after the welfare of Tory MPs, plunged the Government into a new crisis when he dramatically quit on Thursday night. Johnson did not remove the whip until Friday evening.

Pincher had previously resigned from the whips’ office in 2017 over claims he made unwanted advances to a young activist, but was later reinstated after being cleared by an internal Conservative Party investigation.

Downing Street – and a succession of ministers – had previously stated that Johnson had not been aware of any “specific allegations” against Pincher.

Yet according to The Times, Johnson opted not to appoint the now-disgraced MP as his chief whip in his first Cabinet in 2019 over concerns about his behaviour.

The National: Carrie Johnson reportedly raised concerns about Chris Pincher in 2017 Carrie Johnson reportedly raised concerns about Chris Pincher in 2017

Even Carrie Johnson had questioned Pincher’s suitability for the whips office while she was Conservative Campaign Headquarters’ director of communications in 2017.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: "Mrs Johnson is a private individual and has no role in ministerial appointments."

Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former chief aide turned critic-in-chief, said Johnson referred to the MP “laughingly in No 10 as ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’ long before appointing him”. Downing Street has not disputed that account.

Pincher is now facing more than a dozen allegations of misconduct. He has not responded to requests for comment on the latest allegations, but the newspapers behind them said he denied the claims.

McDonald explained that he wrote to the Parliamentary Standards Committee due to a sense of moral duty. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “It is very unusual for a retired official to do what I have done this morning. I did it by myself, because what I have seen and read over the last few days I knew to be wrong. And you know, things get to a point where you have to do the right thing.”

He added: “First of all, Number 10 have had five full days to get the story correct and that has still not happened. And second, I do not approve of anonymous briefings behind the scenes. If I was to do this, I should put my name to it rather than just phone a journalist and tip them off.”

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Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said McDonald’s letter showed Johnson had “lied” about the appointment of Pincher as deputy chief whip.

“Boris Johnson’s desperate attempts to cover up what he knew about sexual assault complaints against Chris Pincher before appointing him have been blown out the water,” she said in a statement.

“It is now clear that the Prime Minister knew about the seriousness of these complaints but decided to promote this man to a senior position in Government anyway. He refused to act and then lied about what he knew.

“Boris Johnson is dragging British democracy through the muck. His appalling judgment has made Westminster a less safe place to work.“

The furore has emboldened Conservative backbenchers' attempts to change the rules of the 1922 Committee of backbenchers so they can hold another no-confidence vote within the next year.

One rebel MP told ITV that the revelations have soured the mood of the party. “People feel sick – and it shows ‘he's learned nothing’ according to his acolytes," they said. 

Current party rules dictate that another challenge cannot be held for 12 months after last June's confidence vote, which Johnson won despite 148 Tory MPs voting against him.

But amid renewed questions over his judgment, there are suggestions that the upcoming elections for the 1922 Committee’s executive could focus on a compromise proposal to allow a vote sooner.

The change would mean a second confidence vote could be held if 25% of Tories in the Commons – 90 MPs – submit letters to the 1922 leadership, double the current amount required to trigger an initial vote.