A Conservative MP has accused government ministers, special advisers and the prime minister’s staff of conduct that “would seem to constitute blackmail”, as Tories reel over the future of Boris Johnson.
William Wragg, chairman of a Commons scrutiny committee, said he has received reports that the government has been encouraging the media to publish “embarrassing” stories about Conservative MPs who no longer back a prime minister engulfed in scandals and crises.
Speaker of the Commons Sir Lyndsay Hoyle said government whips and special advisers are “not above the criminal law” in response to Wragg’s claims.
Wragg told Thursday’s (January 20) hearing of the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee that Tory MPs who oppose Johnson’s leadership have been subjected to “pressures and intimidation”.
He said he has received reports that government ministers, special advisers and Downing Street staff have been “encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those who they suspect of lacking confidence in the prime minister”.
Wragg – who has submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson to the 1922 committee –. continued: “The intimidation of a member of parliament is a serious matter. Reports of which I am aware would seem to constitute blackmail.”
Speaker Hoyle told the Commons: “While the whipping system is long-established, it is of course a contempt to obstruct members in a discharge of their duty or to attempt to intimidate a member in their Parliamentary conduct by threats.”
When asked about Wragg’s comments Johnson told reporters he has “seen no evidence [nor] heard no evidence to support any of those allegations”.
However, Christian Wakeford – the Tory MP for Bury South since December 2019 who spectacularly crossed the floor of the Commons to the Labour benches on Wednesday – said he was threatened with funding cuts to his constituency unless he voted as directed by Number 10.
Wakeford added: “Whether it goes back to the issues over free school meals, over Dominic Cummings, over personal credit, the cost of living crisis, the Owen Paterson affair, or now patygate, there’s been a lot of build up to this and a lot of soul searching that’s taken many sleepless nights.”
MP’s defection saves Johnson
Wakeford’s defection was seen as a major coup for Sir Keir Starmer but, the Telegraph reports, it has actually saved Johnson as the MP’s switch to Labour “appears to [have] focus[ed] minds amid backlash from other members of the 2019 Conservative intake”.
The defection has actually resulted in “between three and seven letters of no confidence” in the PM being withdrawn from the chairman of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers, Sir Graham Brady, the Telegraph claims.
“Wakeford has saved Boris,” said one disaffected Conservative MP who, along with others, has been “brought in from the cold” by Wakeford’s dramatic conversion to Starmer’s Labour party, just before Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, provoking, what Tory MP Jonathan Gullis called “complete and utter disgust”.
‘In the name of God, go,’ Davis tells PM
Not so for all Conservative backbenchers, as evidenced by Johnson’s former Brexit ally, David Davis who, at the end of a fiery PMQs told the PM his time in Number 10 is up.
Davis said he had spent weeks defending Johnson and reminding voters of the PM’s successes, including Brexit, but added that he expects leaders to “shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take”.
Davis told the PM: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.”