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UK prime minister Rishi Sunak is facing the prospect of two parliamentary by-elections in Conservative strongholds this autumn after Chris Pincher lost his appeal against an eight-week suspension from the House of Commons for groping two men last year.
An independent parliamentary panel upheld the recommendation by the Commons standards committee in July, ruling that the sanction imposed on Pincher, a former Conservative deputy chief whip, was “far from being arbitrary or disproportionate”.
The move triggers a recall petition under which Pincher’s Tamworth constituents can demand a by-election if 10 per cent of them sign it. Pincher won the seat in 2010 and secured a majority of nearly 20,000 in the 2019 general election.
A successful petition would leave Sunak facing a second by-election this autumn after former culture secretary Nadine Dorries finally carried out her threat to quit as an MP just over a week ago. Both the Liberal Democrats and Labour believe they can take her Mid Bedfordshire seat, which Dorries won in 2019 with a majority of just under 25,000.
In July, Sunak suffered two crushing losses in the previously safe seats of Selby and Ainsty in northern England and Somerton and Frome in the south-west to Labour and the Lib Dems, respectively. However, his party narrowly clung on to the seat of former prime minister Boris Johnson in Uxbridge in west London.
The suspension of Pincher came after two men told the standards committee that the then deputy chief whip had touched them inappropriately at the private member’s Carlton Club in London in June 2022.
The committee said Pincher had been unable to recall the events in question and that the MP had drawn attention to inconsistencies in the evidence provided by the two victims and witnesses.
The committee found that Pincher’s behaviour had represented “an abuse of power”, although it conceded that he had expressed “genuine contrition” and had resigned as a government minister.
On Monday the independent parliamentary panel concluded that the committee had approached its task “properly” and with “fairness and obvious reason to the facts”.
“We consider that the appellant’s arguments are misconceived or erroneous,” it said. “The sanction is far from being arbitrary or disproportionate. This appeal is dismissed and the eight-week suspension stands.”
Separately, Sir Gavin Williamson, the former Tory chief whip, has been told to apologise and undergo “behaviour training” after he was found to have bullied a colleague.
Williamson was deemed to have sent bullying texts to Wendy Morton, the then chief whip, after he was not allocated tickets to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral last September.
An independent expert panel set up by parliament to consider the case said the texts were “offensive and intimidating” and that Williamson had threatened to “lever his power and authority as a former chief whip to undermine Ms Morton personally”.
Morton made a complaint about the messages to the Commons independent complaints and grievances scheme. The panel said Williamson had accepted its decision.