Boris Johnson is facing questions over his delay in suspending former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher from the parliamentary party over an allegation that he drunkenly groped two men.
Mr Pincher had already been forced to quit his role in the Tory whips’ office – in which he was responsible for party discipline and the smooth running of government business at Westminster – after the claim emerged this week.
Now, after a formal complaint was made against him to parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS), he will be forced to sit as an independent outside the Conservative group.
Tory Andrew Bridgen suggested Downing Street was guilty of “double standards” in the difference between the handling of Mr Pincher and the handling of Neil Parish, the Conservative who was forced to stand down as an MP after admitting watching pornography in the Commons.
Mr Bridgen told BBC Newsnight: “For those who wish to maintain confidence in the prime minister or even regain it, it has been a particularly bad day.
“Neil was a very independent-minded Conservative backbencher, he never really sought patronage and he did hold ministers to account.
“Chris Pincher is seen as an arch-loyalist and I think that, to most people, will be the reason for the difference in their treatment. And that’s not tenable either.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the prime minister had been “dragged kicking and screaming into taking any action at all” and that the scandal was “yet more evidence of his appalling judgement”.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “It should never have taken Boris Johnson this long to act and withdraw the whip.
“Once again it seems Johnson has had to be forced into doing the right thing.”
Earlier, Tory MPs Karen Bradley and Caroline Nokes – the only two Conservative female chairs of backbench select committees – criticised what they called the “inconsistent and unclear approach” by their party to such incidents.
Also on Friday, The Times reported a young Tory activist accusing Mr Pincher of making an unwanted sexual advance last year, saying the MP put his hand on his knee and told him he would “go far in the party” at a party conference.
Mr Pincher’s lawyers told the newspaper he firmly denies the allegation.
There are also growing questions about why Mr Pincher was chosen for the role in the whips’ office, having previously resigned from it under a cloud in 2017.
That resignation came after former Olympic rower and Conservative candidate Alex Story alleged Mr Pincher touched him while making an unwanted pass and using similar language.
Mr Pincher was reinstated two months later by Theresa May, having referred himself to the police and the Conservative Party complaints procedure.
A No 10 spokesman said the prime minister had not been made aware of anything that would have prevented the appointment going ahead.
“In the absence of any formal complaints, it was not appropriate to stop an appointment on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations.”