Will Quince has become the latest member of the Government to find himself unable to defend the indefensible when it comes to the conduct of Boris Johnson.
On Monday, the junior children’s minister was booked in to do the morning round of broadcast interviews to promote plans to make childcare in England more affordable.
Instead, he found himself engulfed in the political firestorm set off by the resignation four days earlier of deputy chief whip Chris Pincher amid claims he drunkenly groped two men at a Conservative private members’ club.
At a regular Downing Street briefing on Friday, a No 10 spokesman denied reports Mr Johnson had ignored warnings about Mr Pincher’s conduct when he appointed him to the key role in February, insisting the Prime Minister had not known of any “specific allegations”.
It was a line repeated by ministers, including Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey, over the weekend against the backdrop of a growing pile of press reports alleging similar instances of past misconduct by the Mr Pincher.
As he embarked on his tour of the TV and radio studios, Mr Quince was told that the position had not changed.
“I have been given categorical assurance that the Prime Minister was not aware of any serious specific allegation with regards to the former deputy chief whip,” he told Sky News – a line he repeated in subsequent interviews.
But within hours of his final appearance, the ground was shifting.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists Mr Johnson had indeed be aware of “speculation” and media reports about Mr Pincher when he made the appointment but that any concerns had either been “resolved” or had not resulted in a formal complaint.
Less than 24 hours later that position had been blown apart by a bombshell intervention by the former top official at the Foreign Office.
Lord McDonald of Salford disclosed that not only had Mr Pincher been the subject of an official complaint – which was upheld – when he was Europe minister in 2019, but that the Prime Minister had been briefed “in person” about it.
Downing Street’s account of events, Lord McDonald wrote in a letter to the parliamentary standards commissioner, was simply “not true”.
Again, Mr Johnson’s spokesman was forced to back track while, in the Commons, the Cabinet Office Minister Michael Ellis claimed Mr Johnson had been unable to “immediately recall” his briefing to derisory laughter from MPs.
By late afternoon on Tuesday, a chastened Prime Minister was appearing before the television cameras to apologise for appointing Mr Pincher to such a sensitive post.
It was too late. Even as his interview was playing out, first Sajid Javid and then Rishi Sunak were tendering their resignations.
Joining them, Mr Quince said in his letter of resignation on Wednesday that he had “no choice” having “accepted and repeated” those assurances which “have now been found to be inaccurate”.