UK's Sunak could face vote to fill seat after lawmaker suspension upheld

Britain's PM Sunak looks at knives and machetes seized from knife attacks in London

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Rishi Sunak could face the prospect of another difficult election for a potential vacant seat in parliament, after a lawmaker lost an appeal against a proposed eight-week suspension for groping two men at a London club.

Chris Pincher, who now sits as an independent, was suspended from the ruling Conservative Party by then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson last year after being accused of sexual misconduct. Johnson's initial perceived downplaying of the allegations added to pressure that ultimately led to Johnson's resignation as prime minister.

Under British parliamentary ethics rules, a lawmaker facing a lengthy suspension can be removed by a petition from constituents, forcing a special election to fill the seat.

Pincher did not appeal against the findings of parliament's standards committee, but argued the punishment was disproportionate. An independent expert panel said on Monday his arguments were "misconceived or erroneous".

Parliament will now vote whether to approve the eight-week suspension. If more than 10% of Pincher's constituents then sign a recall petition, he will lose his job.

Sunak's Conservative Party lost two strategically important parliamentary seats in July that sent an ominous signal about the chances of winning a national election expected next year.

Asked if Pincher should resign, Sunak's spokesperson said the government was clear about the importance of "integrity, professionalism and accountability" but it was a personal decision if he should resign.

The Conservatives are trailing behind the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls and another defeat would be an embarrassment for Sunak.

Two men told parliament's standards committee that Pincher touched them inappropriately at the private members' Carlton Club last year. The committee said in its June report that the physical contact was "unwanted, upsetting and deeply inappropriate".

Pincher apologised for behaviour and said he had been unable to recall the events.

(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Peter Graff)