Ex-Tory whip Chris Pincher resigns as an MP after losing groping appeal

Rishi Sunak has a second by-election to defend after former Tory whip Chris Pincher resigned as an MP after losing his appeal against a suspension for drunkenly groping two men.

The Prime Minister conceded they will be “difficult” for his Conservative Party as they lag far behind Labour in national polls despite both seats having been previously considered as safe for the Tories.

Mr Pincher said he did not want to put any “further uncertainty” on his constituents in Tamworth, Staffordshire, before formally handing in his resignation to the Treasury.

Tamworth: general election results since 1997
(PA Graphics)

When the by-election is held is for the Conservatives to decide, but it could be set for October 19 when former culture secretary Nadine Dorries’ Mid Bedfordshire constituency will be contested.

Mr Pincher had sought to reduce the potentially by-election triggering, eight-week suspension recommended by the Commons Standards Committee for what was found to be an “egregious case of sexual misconduct” at London’s exclusive Carlton Club last year.

But Parliament’s Independent Expert Panel (IEP) dismissed his appeal on Monday.

In a statement to the PA news agency, the former deputy chief whip said: “I have said already that I will not stand at the next general election.

“However, following the Independent Expert Panel’s decision, I wanted to talk to my office team and family.

“I do not want my constituents to be put to further uncertainty and so, in consequence, I have made arrangements to resign and leave the Commons.

“Tamworth is a wonderful place and it has been an honour to represent its people.”

Under the archaic procedure to exit the Commons early, Mr Pincher wrote to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt before the Treasury appointed him Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

The last person to hold that nominal title was fellow former Tory David Warburton who quit after admitting he used cocaine amid allegations of sexual misconduct, which he denied.

The Tories’ fight to retain the seat has been complicated by the fact that the candidate they have lined up to fight the next general election in Tamworth is Eddie Hughes, the current Tory MP for Walsall North.

Mr Hughes ruled out fighting the by-election, saying he has a “commitment to my constituents until the next general election”.

The Conservatives said they will carry out a selection process for the Tamworth candidate, but what will happen to Mr Hughes if the Tories win the seat is uncertain because Walsall North is effectively being abolished in the constituency boundary review.

The Standards Committee found in July that Mr Pincher’s conduct last summer was “profoundly damaging” and amounted to an abuse of power.

His actions were described as “unwanted, inappropriate and upsetting”.

The eight-week suspension would have triggered a recall petition if it had been approved by MPs, which was almost inevitable.

Boris Johnson resignation
Boris Johnson’s handling of the Chris Pincher groping scandal was the final nail in the coffin of his premiership (Gareth Fuller/PA)

A by-election would then have followed if the petition was signed by 10% of constituents.

Mr Pincher appealed the punishment, arguing it was disproportionate, but the IEP said Mr Pincher’s arguments were “misconceived or erroneous” and backed the committee’s proposed sanction.

He resigned from his Government post after the incident, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin of Boris Johnson’s time as prime minister amid anger at his handling of the affair.

Mr Pincher subsequently lost the Tory whip, meaning he has been sitting in the Commons as an independent.

Cabinet reshuffle
Chris Pincher has resigned as an MP (Aaron Chown/PA)

Since resigning as deputy chief whip, taxpayers have paid him £99,184 in salary and £7,920 in ministerial severance, while he has claimed £13,860 in rent as expenses.

Ms Dorries’ bitter exit from the Commons last week has already lined up a by-election in Mid Bedfordshire for October 19.

The Tories have held that seat since 1931 and Ms Dorries held on to it in 2019 by 24,664 votes over second-placed Labour.

But the Conservatives are wary of any electoral test after a sustained period in which national polling has put the party lagging far behind Labour.

Mr Pincher has been comfortably voted for by Tamworth residents since 2010 and won a 19,634 vote majority at the last general election.

Asked about his party’s prospects in the by-elections, Mr Sunak told reporters in Warwick: “Mid-term by-elections are always difficult for incumbent governments and these will be no different, but we’re going to keep working hard to deliver for the British people.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he will be hoping to to secure the seat for his party, which is riding about 18 percentage points clear of the Tories in national polling.

He said that the people of Tamworth had been “desperately let down” by Mr Pincher and the Tories.

“The contrast this week couldn’t be starker could it? I’ve just put my top team on the table through the reshuffle that will take us into the election, focusing on the country.”