Boris Johnson has denied all knowledge of allegations that members of his government have tried blackmailing rebel MPs that are looking to force a vote of no-confidence in his leadership.
The Prime Minister said he had “seen no evidence to support any of those allegations”, with Number 10 saying they would examine any forthcoming evidence “very carefully”.
William Wragg, Tory MP for Hazel Grove and chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, today said a “number of members have faced pressure and intimidation” and “blackmail” from Downing Street and the whip’s office.
Wragg said this included government ministers threatening to withdraw funding from rebel MPs’ constituencies or releasing embarrassing stories about them in the press, with the committee chair urging MPs involved to contact the Met police.
Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who yesterday defected from the Tories to Labour, claimed that he “was threatened that I would not get the school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way”.
Speaking to journalists today, Johnson said: “I’ve seen 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.”
Several groups of backbench Tory MPs have been plotting to oust Boris Johnson for his role in the Downing Street parties scandal, with rumours swirling yesterday that a no-confidence vote would soon be called.
However, the Prime Minister ended the day in a stronger position than when he started after the defection of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford to Labour galvanised Tory MPs to close ranks around Johnson.
Wragg said there was also an aggressive campaign by Number 10 and the whip’s office to dissuade MPs from sending in letters of no-confidence in Johnson.
He said: “In recent days of parliament a number of members have faced pressure and intimidation from members of government because their declared, or assumed, desire for a vote of no confidence in the party leadership of the Prime Minister.
“It is, of course, the duty of the government whip’s office to secure the government’s business in the House of Commons. However, it is not their function to breach the ministerial code in threatening to withdraw investments from members of parliament’s constituencies which are funded from the public purse.
“Reports to me and others of members of staff of Number 10 Downing Street, 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 is similarly unacceptable.
“The intimidation of a member of parliament is a serous matter, moreover the reports of which I am aware seem to constitute blackmail. 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 the Metropolitan Police and I also welcome them to contact me at any time.”
A Number 10 spokesperson said they were “not aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations” and that they will look at any evidence “very carefully”.
Tory backbench MP Michael Fabricant hit out Wragg for coming forward with his allegations, tweeting: “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! What nonsense from WW.”