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Tory opponents of Boris Johnson are facing 'blackmail', MP claims

William Wragg has urged MPs to report intimidation to the police.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Image: PA Images

Updated Jan 20th 2022, 2:05 PM

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER Boris Johnson is battling claims that Tory critics are facing “intimidation” which could amount to blackmail as part of an effort to keep him in office.

Johnson insisted he had seen no evidence to support the incendiary claim made by William Wragg, the Tory chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Wragg said he had received reports of conduct including “members of staff at 10 Downing Street, special advisers, government ministers and others encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those who they suspect of lacking confidence in the Prime Minister”.

“The intimidation of a Member of Parliament is a serious matter. Reports of which I am aware would seem to constitute blackmail,” he said at the start of a Commons committee hearing.

“As such it would be my general advice to colleagues to report these matters to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Commissioner of Metropolitan Police.”

But Johnson, on a visit to Taunton, said: “I’ve seen no evidence, heard no evidence, to support any of those allegations.

“What I am focused on is what we’re doing to deal with the number one priority of the British people, which is coming through Covid.”

He said he would “of course” look for evidence to support the allegations made by Wragg.

The MP 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, Graham Brady, calling for a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s leadership.

He said the conduct of the Government Whips’ Office threatening to withdraw public funding from MPs’ constituencies may have breached the ministerial code.

Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle said it could be a contempt of Parliament to obstruct MPs in their work, adding that MPs and their staff are “not above the criminal law”.

“While the whipping system is long-established, it is of course a contempt to obstruct members in the discharge of their duty or to attempt to intimidate a member in their parliamentary conduct by threats,” he said.

Tory MP Michael Fabricant, a former whip, said Wragg’s comments were “nonsense”.

“If I reported every time I had been threatened by a whip or if a whip reported every time I had threatened them, the police wouldn’t have any time to conduct any other police work,” he said.

But Christian Wakeford, the MP who defected from the Tories to Labour in protest at Johnson’s leadership and the row over Downing Street parties, said he was threatened about the loss of a school in his constituency if he did not toe the line.

Speaking to BBC North West, he said: “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.”

A Labour source said the vote in question related to free school meals.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader who is among those to demand Johnson’s resignation, said Wragg’s allegations are “serious” and should be investigated.

He told ITV Border he has not personally been told of any intimidation, but added: “I think anyone in the Conservative Party will be disappointed to hear these allegations and I hope that they’re properly investigated.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would be “corruption” if investment was being held back from the constituencies of Johnson’s critics, adding to ITV that the allegations should be “independently investigated”.

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Wragg’s dramatic intervention reignited the controversy over Johnson’s future just as the mood at Westminster appeared to be calming.

The defection of Bury South MP Wakeford to Labour yesterday appeared to have led some of the Tories agitating for Johnson to go to pause as the party rallied together.

Tory backbencher Andrew Percy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s kind of made people a bit more relaxed. It’s calmed nerves.

“I think people have recognised that, actually, this constant navel-gazing and internal debating is only to the advantage of our political opponents.”

But influential backbencher Steve Baker said it looks like “checkmate” for Boris Johnson over the “appalling” allegations of rule-breaking parties in No 10.

Baker, the ringleader of efforts to oust Theresa May over Brexit, told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast: “We didn’t make Boris Johnson Prime Minister for his meticulous grasp of tedious rules but this is appalling and the public are rightly furious.”

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said Sue Gray, the senior civil servant inquiring into the Downing Street lockdown parties which have fuelled calls for Johnson to resign, should be given the “time and space” to complete her report.

“If there were people at the heart of Government who were not following the rules, absolutely they should be disciplined, and I look forward to seeing that disciplinary action taking place,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

“We know that because some of the people that were involved and broke the rules have come forward to say so. Of course things like this damage our democracy.

“The way we now get through this is to get the facts out, get them on to the table so we can all reach a judgment ourselves.”

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