A cabinet minister has refused to be drawn on the future of a Tory MP who allegedly groped two men, as Labour demands he is kicked out the party.
Wales Secretary Simon Hart told Sky News he was “very sad” about the situation, but insisted it was for the Conservative chief whip to make a decision over the future of Chris Pincher.
There was also a complaints process to be followed, he said.
Mr Pincher, 52, resigned from his role as deputy chief whip after admitting he had drunk “far too much” and “embarrassed myself and other people” on a night out.
“I apologise to you and to those concerned,” the MP for Tamworth added in a letter to the prime minister.
Mr Pincher “groped two men in front of others” at the Carlton Club in the St James’s area of central London, a government source told Sky News.
One of those groped is an MP, and the second one may also be a member of parliament, the source added.
Mr Hart told Sky News: “This makes me very sad, it makes me sad for everybody who’s been involved in these things.
“It’s clearly something which has gone terribly wrong.
“There is a process, I think it’s important that the process is followed.”
He added: “I think it is entirely right, that the chief whip and others take a view today about what is the appropriate course of action.
“Of course, if there are those who are victims of this or who wish to raise complaint, they can do so.
“The chief whip looking into this and deciding what to do next is not dependent on a complaint being made, that can happen anyway.
“Let’s let today play out, let the chief whip do his duty today, and then I think we might be having a very different conversation as the day goes on.”
Pressed over whether he hoped the matter would get swept under the carpet, he said: “Absolutely not.
“This is not the first time, I fear it possibly won’t be the last. This happens in workplaces from time to time.”
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said Mr Johnson had “serious questions to answer” about why Mr Pincher had been “given this role (as deputy chief whip) in the first place and how he can remain a Conservative MP”.
Mr Pincher’s departure comes less than a week after former Tory chairman Oliver Dowden stood down over two bruising by-election defeats.
It is the second time the MP has quit the whips’ office.
In November 2017, Downing Street said he had “voluntarily referred himself both to the party’s complaints procedure and the police”.
The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Pincher had been accused of making an unwanted pass at Conservative activist and former British rower Alex Story.
Mr Pincher told the newspaper: “If Mr Story has ever felt offended by anything I said, then I can only apologise to him.”
Theresa May reappointed him to the whips’ office the following year.
In his letter to Boris Johnson, the Conservative MP for Tamworth wrote: “Last night I drank far too much.
“I’ve embarrassed myself and other people which is the last thing I want to do and for that I apologise to you and to those concerned.
“I think the right thing to do in the circumstances is for me to resign as deputy chief whip.
“I owe it to you and the people I’ve caused upset to, to do this.”
Mr Pincher added: “I want to assure you that you will continue to have my full support from the back benches, and I wish you all the best as you deal with aftershocks of COVID and the challenges of international inflation.
“It has been the honour of my life to have served in Her Majesty’s Government.”
Ms Rayner said the resignation showed “how far standards in public life have been degraded on Boris Johnson’s watch”.
She added: “The Conservative Party is so mired in sleaze and scandal that it is totally unable to tackle the challenges facing the British people.”
Mr Johnson has been fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaking lockdown rules.
In May, Neil Parish resigned as a Conservative MP after admitting watching pornography in the House of Commons.
Chris Pincher has been an MP since 2010 and at the last general election was returned with a majority of more than 19,000.
Before his latest spell in the whips’ office, he was minister of state for Europe and the Americas, and minister of state for housing.
He also writes a column on alcoholic drinks for The Critic magazine. A recent one was headlined: “Fall into the gin trap.”
The Tories are not the only party currently facing sleaze allegations.
Earlier this month, it emerged that SNP MP Patrick Grady was facing suspension from the House of Commons after an allegation of sexual misconduct was upheld following a parliamentary investigation.
An independent expert panel recommended that Mr Grady be suspended from the House for two days for making an “unwanted sexual advance” to a member of party staff at a work social event at a pub in 2016.
Mr Grady was also ordered to make a public apology in the chamber and to say sorry privately to the person who complained.
The SNP’s leader in Westminster, Ian Blackford, has faced calls to step down in connection with the same matter.