Tory MP Johnny Mercer has received a ‘full and unreserved apology’ from the Chief Whip after his deputy was accused of mounting a smear campaign against him.
Chris Pincher, the deputy chief whip, is alleged to have tried to persuade an ex-serviceman to provide ‘dirt’ on Mr Mercer, who is a former Army captain.
The Daily Mail revealed on Saturday how Mr Pincher had been accused of seeking damaging information on Mr Mercer after meeting a former colleague of his for a drink in February.
Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, yesterday issued an apology to Mr Mercer during a telephone conversation.
It is not clear why the whips have targeted Mr Mercer. Another former soldier Tory MP Tom Tughendhat last week made similar allegations.
The allegations of dirty tricks come as the Tory party builds up to a full-blown race to replace Mrs May – though both Mr Mercer and Mr Tughendhat have denied being candidates.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer has received a ‘full and unreserved apology’ from the Chief Whip after his deputy was accused of mounting a smear campaign against him
The Daily Mail revealed on Saturday how Mr Pincher had been accused of seeking damaging information on Mr Mercer after meeting a former colleague of his for a drink in February
Mr Mercer, 37, who is seen as a potential future leadership contender, last week tweeted a copy of a message he had received from the fellow ex-serviceman, who alleged the party had tried to ‘tap me up for dirt on you’.
The Plymouth Moor View MP said it was the third attempt to extract damaging information that he had been notified of in recent months.
Chris Pincher, the deputy chief whip, is alleged to have tried to persuade an ex-serviceman to provide ‘dirt’ on Mr Mercer, who is a former Army captain
The message read: ‘Btw, the Whips office was trying to tap me up for dirt on you. Obviously. I have none anyway, but I told him to f*** off regardless.
‘I guess maybe watch your back a little bit.’
Mr Mercer is a former Remain supporter who has since said that the result of the referendum should be respected.
But he has also criticised the handling of the process by Theresa May’s Government.
Mr Mercer said the alleged plot revealed why the UK was in ‘such a mess’.
He tweeted: ‘Third one of these I’ve had of late, from an only army contact.
‘Contrast the values and ethos of that institution vs Parliament, and you’ll start to find answers of how we got the UK politically into such a mess. Values, integrity, ethos – never been more important, or more scarce.’
Mr Pincher resigned as a whip over allegations of sexual harassment in November 2017, but was later cleared by a Conservative Party probe and was appointed as deputy chief whip in January last year.
Julian Smith, the Chief Whip, yesterday issued an apology to Mr Mercer during a telephone conversation
The 49-year-old reported himself to the police when the claims were made, but a panel led by an independent QC found there had not been a breach of the party’s code of conduct.
Mr Pincher, who was has been the MP for Tamworth since 2010, was accused of making an unwanted pass in 2001 at former Olympic rower Alex Story.
He was also accused of ‘touching up’ former Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop, who told him to ‘f*** off’.
Mr Pincher is reported to have tried to untuck Mr Story’s shirt and massaged his neck before changing into a bathrobe. Mr Pincher said he did ‘not recognise the events’ and apologised for any offence caused.
Mr Pincher has not responded to requests for comment on the claims regarding Mr Mercer.
At the weekend, the Mail on Sunday has learnt that similar enquiries have been made to former Army colleagues of Tory MP Tom Tugendhat – who served in the Intelligence Corps – who last week ruled out a tilt at No 10.
On Thursday, war hero turned Plymouth MP Johnny Mercer (pictured) took to social media to accuse an anonymous Tory enforcer of attempting to ‘dig up dirt’ about his military career
A source said: ‘They’re trawling through old friends who unsurprisingly reported back.’
It is understood that Mr Mercer angrily confronted Chief Whip Mr Smith on the phone on Friday night, urging him to root out any such behaviour. But Downing Street insiders ridiculed the idea that they were behind the hunt.
Instead, they heaped blame on the fevered leadership jostling that is currently tearing through the top of the Conservative Party, suggesting Mr Mercer was planning to run to replace Mrs May.
One Minister, who is a former Whip, said: ‘I never ever heard of this sort of thing being contemplated let alone being done.
‘It is much more likely to be a rival to Mercer posing as the Whips’ Office.
Tom Tugendhat – who served in the Intelligence Corps
‘There is no way they would have the time or ability.’ And a serving Tory Whip told this newspaper: ‘We have bigger problems than Johnny Mercer.’
But hitting back, Mr Mercer – who did three tours of Afghanistan – told The Mail on Sunday: ‘The Chief Whip agrees with me that this behaviour is unacceptable, that he is the Government’s Chief Whip, and that the behaviour of the Whips’ Office is his responsibility.
‘I have left him in no doubt that I expect this individual to have the integrity to come forward of his own accord.’
He added: ‘I am actually pleased this has happened to me. I am tired of seeing colleagues treated in this way, who when I ask to intervene seem oddly fearful of the Whips’ Office and ask me not to.
‘So I’m pleased I have this opportunity to put a firm marker in the sand that this sort of behaviour is not acceptable in a modern Conservative Party.
‘Parliament is in need of serious reform. I can’t just keep saying that and not call it out when this sort of thing happens.’
Mr Mercer also denied he was eyeing up a push for the top job, saying: ‘No 10’s idea I am running a leadership campaign is a joke. I must be the only Tory MP who hasn’t actually asked a single colleague to vote for them.
‘We’ve got a national crisis to sort out; the public do not look fondly on those more preoccupied with their personal ambitions at this time.’
The row came as unsubstantiated rumours circulated in Westminster that one major Cabinet frontrunner was having an affair.
However, allies of the Minister say the claims pushed by MPs were ‘nonsense’.