UK PM Sunak faces new local vote after lawmaker accused of groping quits

Downing Street in London

By Andrew MacAskill and Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) -British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces another difficult vote to fill a vacant seat in parliament after a lawmaker suspended for groping two men at a London club last year resigned.

Chris Pincher, who sat as an independent for more than a year after being sanctioned by the ruling Conservative Party, quit on Thursday three days after losing an appeal against an eight-week ban from the House of Commons.

"I do not want my constituents to be put to further uncertainty," said Pincher, 53, who was first elected to parliament in 2010 and during his political career served as a minister for housing and Europe.

"I have made arrangements to resign and leave the Commons," he added in a statement.

The accusations of sexual misconduct against Pincher, whose role as deputy chief whip involved enforcing party discipline, contributed to the collapse of Boris Johnson's government after the former prime minister initially played down the allegations.

The prospect of another difficult by-election could intensify pressure on Sunak, whose Conservative Party lost two out of three parliamentary seats contested in July.

He is struggling to re-energise his premiership ahead of a national election expected next year.

Although the Conservatives won Pincher's Tamworth seat with a majority of 19,634 in 2019, the party is trailing heavily behind the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls.

The vote to replace Pincher is likely to be held on the same day as another by-election to replace former culture minister and Sunak critic Nadine Dorries on Oct. 19.

Two men told parliament's standards committee that Pincher touched them inappropriately at a private club last year. The committee said in its June report that the physical contact was "unwanted, upsetting and deeply inappropriate".

A spokesperson for Johnson initially claimed he was not aware of "specific allegations" of previous complaints of sexual misconduct against Pincher before appointing him to a role that involves offering pastoral care in the Conservative Party.

Johnson had been briefed on the allegations but had forgotten, the spokesperson later clarified.

Pincher has apologised for his behaviour and said he had been unable to recall the events.

(Reporting by Muvija M, Alistair Smout and Andrew MacAskill; editing by William James and Andrew Cawthorne)