No 10 resisting investigation into ‘blackmailing’ of Tory critics of PM

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said the allegations should be investigated.

Sam Blewett
Friday 21 January 2022 13:23
Boris Johnson is clinging on to power ahead of the result of an inquiry into allegations of parties in No 10 (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Boris Johnson is clinging on to power ahead of the result of an inquiry into allegations of parties in No 10 (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Downing Street is resisting opening an investigation into allegations of Tory MPs being blackmailed into supporting Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he faces a threat to his leadership, despite a Cabinet minister saying they need to be looked at.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng disputed the allegation first made by a senior Conservative, but said if true it would be “completely unacceptable” and ministers “need to get to the bottom of the matter”.

But No 10 suggested on Friday that an investigation will only be launched “if there was any evidence” to support the claims, despite calls from Labour and Tory MPs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is continuing to fight claims Tory critics are facing ‘intimidation’ which could amount to blackmail (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

William Wragg said critics considering triggering a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister were receiving threats to “withdraw investments” from constituencies, as well as “intimidation” from No 10 staff.

Mr Wragg, chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the threats could amount to “blackmail” and urged colleagues to report them to the police.

Christian Wakeford the Bury South MP who defected from the Tories to Labour, then said he was threatened that funding for a new school in his constituency would be withheld if he did not vote with the Government over free school meals.

Mr Kwarteng told Sky News: “As far as the specific allegation about whips withholding funds, I think that’s completely unacceptable.

“Any form of blackmail and intimidation of that kind simply has no place in British politics.

“We need to get to the bottom of the matter. But I find it very unlikely that these allegations are true.”

The Business Secretary said Mr Wakeford’s “very serious” allegation has so far been “unsubstantiated”.

Conservative MP William Wragg (Parliament TV/PA)

“I’m sure it will be investigated if it’s not being so already – after 12 years as an MP I’ve never heard anything like this,” Mr Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Having been an MP for 12 years I’ve never heard of anyone making a threat, certainly not to me or to anybody else of that kind, doesn’t mean it’s not true.”

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “We’re not aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations.

“If there was any evidence to support it, it would of course be looked at.”

Mr Kwarteng described Mr Wakeford, who was elected to Bury South in 2019 on a wafer-thin majority, of having “essentially turned coat” in switching to Labour.

“I don’t know what his motivations were, and as you’ll appreciate he’s a Labour MP now and, of course, part of his job is to try and discredit the Government,” he told Sky News.

Mr Kwarteng said he had never experienced bullying from the Government whips.

“Generally, my whips were a lot shorter than I was over the years,” he told LBC, adding that therefore “I’m not sure how the physical intimidation or other forms of intimidation” would have been effective.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who has defected from the Conservatives to Labour (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The claims of intimidation come as Mr Johnson battles to remain in power ahead of the result of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into allegations of rule-breaking partying during coronavirus restrictions.

The result of her investigation is not expected until next week.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister said Mr Wragg’s allegation will “of course” be looked into, but he added he has “seen no evidence” to support it.

The Times reported Tory MPs wanting to oust the Prime Minister are considering publishing a secretly recorded conversation with the chief whip, and messages, to help support the claims.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader who is among those demanding Mr Johnson’s resignation, said the allegations should be “properly investigated”.

Mr Wragg is one of a handful of Tory backbenchers to have said publicly they have submitted a letter to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership.

Mr Wakeford said he had done the same before he defected to Labour shortly before Prime Minister’s Questions this week.

On Thursday he told BBC North West: “I was threatened that I would not get the school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way. This is a town that’s not had a high school for the best part of 10 years.”

New claims of threats under a previous administration also emerged on Friday when former Tory MP Ben Howlett said an ex-whip warned him funds would be withheld from his constituency over a link road project if he did not support the Government during Brexit votes.

Mr Howlett, the MP for Bath between 2015 and 2017, told the PA news agency: “If I was a less resilient MP, in those days I would’ve ended up thinking, ‘Oh god am I going to carry on rebelling against the Government on Brexit if my major campaign message was going to be undermined as a result’, there was some pretty devious tactics.”

On the current allegations in Westminster, he said: “As a Prime Minister who’s trying to build bridges with his backbenchers it doesn’t look very good at all, in fact it’s completely counterproductive at this moment in time to end up sending his flunkies to persuade a load of backbench MPs to go and support him by using tactics like that.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in