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UK government resisting investigation into ‘blackmailing’ of Tory critics of Boris Johnson

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

Image: PA

Updated Jan 21st 2022, 2:17 PM

DOWNING STREET IS resisting opening an investigation into allegations of Tory MPs being blackmailed into supporting 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 today that an investigation will only be launched “if there was any evidence” to support the claims, despite calls from Labour and Tory MPs.

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.

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.

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 Wakeford’s “very serious” allegation has so far been “unsubstantiated”.

“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,” 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.”

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Kwarteng described 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.

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.

The claims of intimidation come as 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.

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.

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