(Bloomberg) --

Boris Johnson was aware of media reports and speculation about alleged misconduct by Conservative MP Chris Pincher, but promoted him to a senior government role because there was no formal complaint against him at the time, the prime minister’s spokesman said.

The UK prime minister suspended Pincher from the ruling Tory party late on Friday. Yet that was almost a full day after the MP resigned as Johnson’s political enforcer in the wake of Sun newspaper allegations he groped two fellow guests at a private club, and the delay triggered a backlash.

Boris Johnson Under Pressure Over Tory MP Who Quit in Sleaze Row

Johnson is facing intense pressure to spell out why he appointed Pincher as deputy chief whip in February, despite the MP quitting a similar role in 2017 amid allegations he had made unwanted sexual advances on a former Olympic rower. On Friday, spokesman Jamie Davies said Johnson had been unaware of “specific allegations”at the time of his appointment.

By Monday, following reports of further allegations in most major British newspapers, the government’s line had shifted.

Johnson “was aware of media reports that others had seen over the years,” spokesman Max Blain told reporters. He was also aware of allegations that had either been resolved or not ended in a formal complaint, Blain said.

Because there had been no formal complaint, it was “not appropriate to stop the appointment,” Blain said, referring to Johnson’s decision.

The row over Pincher comes at a dangerous time for Johnson given he barely survived a Tory confidence vote just weeks ago. Anger among Conservative MPs had been building for months over a series of scandals that raised questions about Johnson’s own judgment and conduct in office.

‘No Place Like Home’ for Johnson Returning to Sleaze and Strikes

The prime minister promoted Pincher in part to bolster his ailing support and to help convince Tories that there would be a fresh start. Now, that calculation appears to have backfired dramatically, and risks turning even more MPs against Johnson.

Pincher’s office didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment made on Friday and Sunday by Bloomberg News. Pincher didn’t respond on Sunday to a phone message seeking comment. 

Johnson is due to update the House of Commons on Monday about his eight days at international summits, an unusually long trip for a UK leader that has now been overshadowed by the furor surrounding Pincher. 

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