Chris Picher says he will get ‘medical help’ and vows he will return to the Commons

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Christopher Pincher last night said he would seek medical assistance and hoped to return to his duties as an MP “as soon as possible”. He said in a statement: “I respect the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend the whip whilst an inquiry is underway, and I will co-operate fully with it.

“As I told the Prime Minister, I drank far too much on Wednesday night, embarrassing myself and others, and I am truly sorry for the upset I caused.

“The stresses of the last few days, coming on top of those over the last several months, have made me accept that I will benefit from professional medical support. I am in the ­process of seeking that now.”

It was claimed last night that Mr Johnson was aware of concerns about Mr Pincher’s behaviour long before appointing him as deputy chief whip in February.

It was reported that the Prime Minister is said to have told aides back in 2020: “He’s handsy, that’s a problem. Pincher by name, pincher by nature.”

Downing Street last week appeared to concede the PM had been aware of “unsubstantiated allegations” against Mr Pincher but did not believe these should bar him from a whips’ office role.

A No.10 spokesman said: “In the absence of any formal complaints, it was not appropriate to stop an appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.”

Mr Johnson was also said to have been informed two months ago about claims that Mr Pincher made unwanted advances to a Tory MP.

It comes as Conservatives fear the return of “sleaze” will distract attention from the Government’s attempts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and could lead to another bruising by-election.

A veteran Conservative source warned a succession of scandals will be “corrosive” and “feeds into this whole element of chaos” after Boris Johnson removed the whip from Mr Pincher.

The MP is now the subject of an investigation by Parliament’s sexual misconduct watchdog, the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme, and Tories are bracing themselves for a possible by-election in his constituency of Tamworth, Staffordshire.

The Conservatives held the seat in the 2019 general election with a majority of 19,634. But they had an even bigger majority in the Tiverton and Honiton constituency before losing it to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election last month, also prompted by sleaze allegations.

Mr Pincher is free to continue sitting as an independent MP despite being expelled from the Conservative group of MPs in the Commons. However, he could choose to follow the example of former Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish, who quit politics after admitting he watched porn on his phone in the Commons.

The Recall of MPs Act also allows Tamworth voters to organise a petition demanding a by-election if the Commons Standards Committee decides to suspend Mr Pincher for 10 sitting days or more. In addition, Tories fear that the string of scandals makes it hard to focus attention on their domestic agenda and creates the impression of a government out of control.

A Conservative source said: “It is damaging. There is no question – absolutely no question at all.”

Will Tanner, director of the think-tank Onward, warned that allegations of sleaze strengthened a perception among voters that “the Government is no longer on their side” and is “being distracted by other issues”.

And he said that Tory MPs would be horrified if another ­by-election is triggered.

He said: “I think the prospect of a by-election will fill many Conservative MPs with horror and would be yet another battle that Downing Street would have to face to restore the PM’s authority over the party.

“It would be not just a distraction but actively very damaging for the Conservatives – almost irrespective of the outcome.”

Mr Pincher quit as Tory deputy chief whip on Thursday after he was accused of groping two men on Wednesday night at London’s Carlton Club, 20 minutes’ walk from Parliament.

The MP has apologised, saying he “drank far too much”.

The Prime Minister faced criticism after he resisted calls to remove the whip until Friday.

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