No 10 efforts to save Johnson are illegal, Commons standards chairman claims

Chris Bryant said threats to withdraw funding from constituencies of MPs seeking to oust the PM should be referred to the police.

Gavin Cordon
Saturday 22 January 2022 18:51
Chris Bryant said MPs are meant to operate without fear or favour (PA)
Chris Bryant said MPs are meant to operate without fear or favour (PA)

The senior MP who heads the Commons “sleaze” watchdog has warned Government attempts to pressurise Tory MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson are illegal.

Chris Bryant chairman of the Commons Standards Committee, said threats to withdraw public funding from MPs’ constituencies amounted to “misconduct in public office” and should be referred to the police.

He said there were even allegations the Prime Minister had been directly involved as he battles to save his job ahead of a keenly-awaited report into lockdown parties in Downing Street

His intervention came after William Wragg, the senior Tory MP who first raised concerns about attempted “blackmail” by No 10, disclosed that he is to meet police to discuss his claims.

In a further development, it has been reported that the inquiry by senior civil servant Sue Gray has been widened to cover alleged parties at the the Downing Street flat Mr Johnson shares with his wife, Carrie, and their two children.

The Sunday Times said investigators have questioned claims that two Cabinet Office aides, Henry Newman and Josh Grimstone – who are both friends of Mrs Johnson and who were said to have visited the flat numerous occasions during lockdown, did so for work purposes.

Mr Bryant, who is a Labour MP, said he had spoken to “about a dozen” Conservatives in recent days who had either been threatened by Government whips with having funding cut from their constituencies or promised funding if they voted “the right way”.

“I have even heard MPs alleging that the Prime Minister himself has been doing this,” Mr Bryant told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“What I have said to all of those people is that I think that is misconduct in public office. The people who should be dealing with such allegations are the police.

“We are not the United States. We don’t run a ‘pork barrel’ system. It is illegal.

“We are meant to operate as MPs without fear or favour. The allocation of taxpayer funding to constituencies should be according to need, not according to the need to keep the Prime Minister in his job.”

Earlier, Mr Wragg said he would be meeting a Scotland Yard detective in the House of Commons early next week, raising the prospect police could open an investigation.

The disclosure came after Downing Street said it would not be mounting its own inquiry into the claims, despite calls to do so by both Conservative and opposition MPs.

A No 10 spokesman said it would only open an inquiry if it was presented with evidence to back up Mr Wragg’s assertions.

However, the MP, who chairs the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he believed an investigation should be for the “experts” in the police.

William Wragg will meet police to discuss his allegations of ‘blackmail’ by No 10 (Parliament TV/PA)

He told The Daily Telegraph that he would outline “several” examples of bullying and intimidation, in some cases involving public money.

“I stand by what I have said. No amount of gas-lighting will change that,” he told the newspaper.

“The offer of Number 10 to investigate is kind but I shall leave it to the experts. I am meeting the police early next week.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.”

Mr Wragg’s latest intervention comes as No 10 is braced for the expected delivery next week of the report of Ms Gray, the senior civil servant investigating lockdown parties in Downing St elsewhere in Whitehall.

It is likely to lead to renewed calls from opposition parties for a police investigation if there is any evidence Covid rules were broken – including at a drinks do in May 2020 attended by Mr Johnson.

Mr Wragg, one of seven Tory MPs to have called publicly for the Prime Minister to resign, stunned Westminster with his allegations this week of a campaign of intimidation by No 10 amounting to criminal conduct.

Christian Wakeford, the Bury South MP who defected to Labour, later described how the Tory whips had warned him over funding for a new school in his constituency if he rebelled in a vote over free school meals.

Boris Johnson is facing calls to resign over lockdown drinks parties (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ministers have sought to dismiss the allegations, insisting the whips had no role in the allocation of public funding.

The latest disclosures will only fuel the febrile mood at Westminster, with Mr Johnson’s political survival hanging in the balance.

Mr Wakeford’s defection appeared to have put the plotting on hold as Tory MPs publicly rallied behind the leadership while the rebels largely went to ground.

However, the publication of Ms Gray’s report represents another moment of danger, potentially triggering a fresh wave of letters to the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady.

Under party rules there will be a confidence vote in Mr Johnson if 54 of the party’s MPs write to Sir Graham calling for one.

Mr Johnson is expected to spend the weekend at Chequers, his official country residence, ringing round potential rebels urging them not to plunge the dagger.

The Times reported the Prime Minister had reassembled the ministerial team which helped him mount his successful leadership bid in 2019 as he seeks to shore up support.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is reportedly playing a key role in the operation along with three former whips and other loyalists.

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