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Scandal of PM Johnson Deepens 07/05 06:46


   LONDON (AP) -- The latest scandal to hit British Prime Minister Boris 
Johnson deepened Tuesday as a former top civil servant publicly said Johnson's 
office wasn't telling the truth about how he handled allegations of misconduct 
against a senior member of his government.

   Johnson has been under pressure to explain what he knew about previous 
allegations of misconduct by lawmaker Chris Pincher since Thursday, when 
Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid complaints that he groped two men at 
a private club.

   The government's explanation has shifted repeatedly over the past five days, 
with ministers initially saying Johnson wasn't aware of earlier allegations of 
sexual misconduct in February, when he promoted Pincher to the post of deputy 
chief whip. By Monday, a spokesman said Johnson knew of allegations that were 
"either resolved or did not progress to a formal complaint."

   That did not sit well with Simon McDonald, the most senior civil servant at 
the Foreign Office from 2015 to 2020. In a highly unusual move, he said Tuesday 
that the prime minister's office still wasn't telling the truth.

   In a letter to the parliamentary commissioner for standards, McDonald said 
he received complaints about Pincher's behavior in the summer of 2019, shortly 
after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister. An investigation upheld the 
complaint and Pincher apologized for his actions, McDonald said.

   McDonald also disputed suggestions that Johnson was either unaware of the 
allegations or that they could be dismissed because they were either resolved 
or had not been made formally.

   "The original No. 10 line is not true and the modification is still not 
accurate," McDonald wrote. "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 
characterize the allegations as 'unsubstantiated' is therefore wrong."

   When asked about the letter, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said he didn't 
know whether Johnson had been told about the Foreign Office investigation. Raab 
was foreign secretary at the time and worked with McDonald on the inquiry.

   "That's news to me," Raab told the BBC when asked about McDonald's assertion 
that Johnson was told about the investigation. "I wasn't aware of that, and 
it's not clear to me that that is factually accurate."

   The latest revelations are fueling discontent within Johnson's Cabinet after 
ministers were forced to publicly deliver the prime minister's denials, only to 
have the explanation shift the next day.

   The Times of London on Tuesday published an analysis of the situation under 
the headline "Claim of lying puts Boris Johnson in peril."

   The scandal comes a month after Johnson survived a vote of no confidence in 
which more than 40% of Conservative Party lawmakers voted to remove him from 
office. Concerns about Johnson's leadership were fueled by the prime minister's 
shifting responses to months of allegations about lockdown-breaking parties in 
government offices that ultimately resulted in 126 fines, including one levied 
against Johnson.

   Two weeks later, Conservative candidates were badly beaten in two 
by-elections to fill vacant seats in Parliament, adding to discontent with 
Johnson's leadership.

   Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip, a key position in enforcing party 
discipline, on Thursday, telling the prime minister that he "drank far too 
much" the previous night and had "embarrassed myself and other people."

   Johnson initially refused to take the further step of suspending Pincher 
from the Conservative Party, but he relented after a formal complaint about the 
groping allegations was filed with parliamentary authorities.

   Critics suggest Johnson was slow to react to the scandal because he didn't 
want to risk forcing Pincher to resign, setting up another potential special 
election defeat for the Conservatives.

   Even before the Pincher scandal, suggestions were swirling that Johnson may 
soon face another vote of no confidence.

   In the next few weeks, Conservative lawmakers will elect new members to the 
committee that sets parliamentary rules for the party. Several candidates have 
suggested they would support changing the rules to allow for another vote of no 
confidence, which is barred for 12 months under the existing rules.

   Senior Conservative lawmaker Roger Gale, a long-standing critic of Johnson, 
said he will now support a change of the rules of the Conservative 1922 
Committee to allow the vote.

   "Mr. Johnson has for three days now been sending ministers -- in one case a 
Cabinet minister -- out to defend the indefensible, effectively to lie on his 
behalf. That cannot be allowed to continue," he told the BBC. "This prime 
minister has trashed the reputation of a proud and honorable party for honesty 
and decency, and that is not acceptable.


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