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Former Tory minister Chris Pincher has announced his resignation as an MP after a groping scandal, triggering a by-election within weeks in his constituency of Tamworth.
The announcement means UK prime minister Rishi Sunak is now facing two challenging by-elections this autumn, given the recent departure of former culture secretary Nadine Dorries as MP for Mid Bedfordshire.
Pincher this week lost his appeal to an independent panel after the House of Commons standards committee decided to suspend him from the Commons for eight weeks for groping two men last year.
“I have said already that I will not stand at the next general election,” he said on Thursday. “Following the independent expert panel’s decision . . . I do not want my constituents to be put to further uncertainty and so in consequence I have made arrangements to resign and leave the Commons.”
Pincher previously held several senior roles in government including deputy chief whip, housing minister and Europe minister, and the allegations against him ultimately triggered the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership last year.
The resignation had been widely expected in Westminster after Pincher lost his appeal. The standards committee found his behaviour at the private Carlton Club in June 2022 had been an “abuse of power”.
Because of the lengthy Commons suspension, Pincher would have faced a “recall petition” in his constituency which — if signed by more than 10 per cent of local voters — would have triggered a by-election.
The prospect of two by-elections within months represents a political headache for Sunak, whose planned autumn relaunch founded on signs of an economic recovery has also been hit by the crisis of England’s crumbling schools.
Although Pincher held Tamworth in the 2019 general election with a majority of nearly 20,000, the Conservatives are about 18 points behind the opposition Labour party in opinion polls ahead of the general election expected next year.
The seat was controlled by Labour throughout the premierships of Sir Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before it was first won by Pincher in 2010.
Meanwhile, the Tories face strong challenges from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Dorries’ former Mid Bedfordshire seat, which she had held with a majority of just under 25,000.
In July the Tories were dramatically defeated in by-elections in two very different seats: by Labour in Selby and Ainsty in northern England and by the Liberal Democrats in Somerton and Frome in the south-west.
Sunak’s party held on to Johnson’s old seat of Uxbridge in west London but its majority was slashed.
When the Carlton Club allegations were first reported on June 30 last year, other Tory MPs were furious that Pincher had been promoted by Johnson despite having been investigated over inappropriate behaviour while a minister in the Foreign Office in 2019.
Downing Street initially claimed Johnson was not aware of “specific allegations” against Pincher before appointing him to the whips’ office.
Number 10 was eventually forced to admit that Johnson had been briefed on the Foreign Office allegations against Pincher but had forgotten about them.
Within days, a string of Tory ministers including Sunak, then chancellor, had resigned. Johnson announced his resignation on July 7, barely a week after the allegations were first reported by The Sun newspaper.