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Johnson scandal deepens with ex-civil servant claims

LONDON (AP) – The latest scandal to hit British Prime Minister Boris Johnson deepened yesterday 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 last Thursday, when Pincher resigned as deputy chief whip amid sexual misconduct allegations.

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 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 yesterday 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 behaviour in the summer of 2019, shortly after Pincher became a Foreign Office minister.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson looks on at a meeting inside 10 Downing Street in central London. PHOTO: AFP

An investigation upheld the complaint and Pincher apologised 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 Number 10 line is not true and the modification is still not accurate,” McDonald wrote. “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; Pincher was not exonerated. To characterise 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 fuelling 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 yesterday published an analysis of the situation under the headline ‘Claim of lying puts Boris Johnson in peril’.

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.