When an unknown member of the British Parliament got drunk in a private club last week and then walked into a warm night in London, few thought he would throw the government into disarray and threaten Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s leadership.
Alcohol and late nights are not alien to British politics, so Chris Pincher’s actions could easily have gone unnoticed.
But a week later, an expanding scandal led to a stark mitigation of three key issues facing the Johnson government: competence, trust and, above all, confidence.
On Tuesday, the fallout escalated when Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Sajid Javid, the health minister, resigned from the government in letters to Mr Johnson that concealed their loss of confidence in his leadership.
Mr Pincher, 52, MP for Tamworth in the Midlands, has had almost no national profile. But within British politics, he has earned a reputation as a fierce loyalist to Mr Johnson and an expert in the art of persuading other Conservative MPs to vote through government actions. For these qualities, Mr Johnson appointed him junior minister in 2019 and then in February of this year as deputy whip, tasked with running government business.
On this latest mission, colleagues said, he has been extraordinarily effective, helping to organize the under-the-radar operation dubbed, at least by some, “Operation Save Big Dog” that enabled Mr Johnson to survive last month, though It was narrowly speaking, a vote of confidence by his colleagues in Parliament.
However there was a problem. Pincher has been in the whip office before, but in 2017, he was forced to resign after accusations that he made an unsolicited pass on conservative activist, former professional rower Alex Storey. A complaint of inappropriate conduct was also filed against Mr. Pincher in 2019 when he was at the State Department.
Mr Johnson’s decision to return him to government was the root cause of the current crisis.
Last Wednesday, Mr Pincher attended an event for the Conservative Friends of Cyprus at the Carlton Club in one of London’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, not far from Buckingham Palace. He was accused of molesting two men while he was there. Eyewitnesses said he was so drunk that he had to put him in a taxi.
The next day, remorseful, he wrote a letter in the House of Commons notes to Johnson, offering his resignation as Deputy Whip. “Last night I drank too much,” he said. “I’ve embarrassed myself and other people and that’s the last thing I want to do and for that I apologize to you and those involved.”
This was not the end. The government insisted for days that Mr Johnson was unaware of any previous accusations, but then it turns out he was aware of the 2019 complaint, yet Mr Pincher appointed a deputy whip. Former State Department civil servant Simon MacDonald issued a public letter on Tuesday accusing Downing Street of distorting the facts.
Opposition lawmakers have called on Mr. Pincher to resign from Parliament. Cabinet ministers sent to defend Johnson’s handling of the matter in radio and television interviews appeared uneasy.
Throughout it all, Mr. Pincher has kept quiet, avoiding the spotlight and denying the substantive accusations leveled at him.