Parliament's standards panel ruled Thursday that former Conservative Party deputy chief whip Chris Pincher -- who now sits as an independent -- should be suspended from the House of Commons for eight weeks for sexually abusing two men. Photo courtesy UK Parliament.
July 6 (UPI) -- A parliamentary panel recommended Thursday that senior MP Chris Pincher be suspended from the House of Commons for eight weeks after finding him guilty of drunkenly groping two men at an exclusive private London club last year.
The Committee on Standards upheld findings by parliament's standards commissioner that "the serious and public nature of Pincher's misconduct means that his conduct has caused significant and lasting damage to the reputation and integrity of the House," therefore breaching MPs' code of conduct, the panel said in a news release.
The panel said it found Pincher had groped the two men following a speaking engagement at the Carlton Club and that this "was unwanted, inappropriate, and upsetting," and that the resulting media furor "had a significant negative impact on the reputation of the whole House."
"Mr. Picher's conduct was completely inappropriate, profoundly damaging to the individuals concerned, and represented an abuse of power," the panel said.
It added that Pincher's actions risked promoting a perception that normal standards of behavior do not apply to MPs and that they can get away with almost anything.
The panel noted that Pincher promptly resigned from his role as a government minister, cooperated in the investigation and "expressed genuine contrition" by offering an apology to those affected in his submission to the panel.
"I'm conscious of the effect the evening and the coverage must have had on all the parties involved, as well as on my own family. I'm very sorry and apologize to them all, as I did the day I resigned from the Government," Pincher told the panel.
But Pincher denied his behavior breached the code because he was speaking at the Conservative Friends of Cyprus event in his capacity as a former minister, rather than as a Member of Parliament.
The cross-party panel made up of four Conservative MPs, Two Labour, one SNP and seven lay members rejected Pincher's defense.
"Whether a Member's behavior falls within the scope of the Code is not, in our view, primarily determined by whether they are in a public or private space at the time, though this may sometimes be relevant. What matters is whether the Member is acting in a public or a purely private capacity," the panel's report states.
"We reassert that the Code does 'not seek to regulate what Members do in their purely private and personal lives' but Mr. Pincher's participation in the Conservative Friends of Cyprus event was undoubtedly part of his public life."
Opposition Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner urged Pincher to "do the decent thing" and immediately resign as an MP while Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain challenged Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to promise to vote for Pincher's suspension.
"Sunak promised to govern with integrity, he must vote with it," she said.
Pending an approval vote by fellow MPs, the suspension will automatically trigger a recall of Pincher and a by-election in his Midlands seat of Tamworth if 10,000 people sign a recall petition. Pincher had previously said he would stand down at the next election, expected by the end of 2024, after being thrown out of the Conservative Party over the incident last year.
The incident in June 2022 triggered the abrupt resignations of two of then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson's right-hand men on July 5 with Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Sunak -- who served as chancellor at the time -- saying they had lost confidence in Johnson.
Johnson had come under fire for not immediately firing Pincher and for appointing him to a top-level position in February despite the fact he had previously faced sexual misconduct allegations.
The defections by Sunak and Javid sparked an avalanche of resignations by ministers that forced Johnson to resign as prime minister and Conservative Party leader two days later.