Backbencher accuses government of ‘gaslighting’ in response to his allegations
The senior Tory MP who alleged potential blackmail by government whips against colleagues considering votes of no confidence in Boris Johnson has said he will meet with police next week to discuss the claims.
Conservative MP William Wragg made the explosive claim on Thursday that threats were being made to “withdraw investments” from constituencies of those who oppose the prime minister, who is trying to cling on to his premiership in the face of the Partygate scandal.
Despite business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying there should be an investigation into “completely unacceptable” allegations, Downing Street has refused to conduct an inquiry – and has said only that evidence will be considered “if it comes forward”.
But on Friday evening, Mr Wragg – one of the first MPs to publicly declare having submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister – said he wanted to leave any inquiry “to the experts”.
He told The Telegraph that he had arranged to meet with a Metropolitan Police detective in the House of Commons “early next week”, with whom he would briefly discuss “several” examples of bullying and intimidation, in some cases involving public money.
“I stand by what I have said. No amount of gaslighting will change that,” said Mr Wragg, who chairs the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee.
A Scotland Yard spokesperson told The Independent that the force could not discuss any planned meetings, adding of the potential blackmail claims: “As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.”
Neither the Conservative Party, nor Mr Wragg immediately responded to a request for comment.
Questioned on the claims on Thursday, Mr Johnson said that he had neither seen nor heard any evidence of intimidation of MPs.
According to The Telegraph, one source in the government’s whips’ office said that the claims of threats and blackmail were untrue, and said to ask rebel MPs for “for a single shred of evidence”.
A group of MPs in the so-called Red Wall were said on Friday to be gathering “an increasing level of evidence”, allegedly including a recording of chief whip Mark Spencer and text messages sent to MPs mulling sending a no confidence letter to the backbench 1922 Committee chairman, Sir Graham Brady.
Following Mr Wragg’s claims on Thursday, Christian Wakeford – the Bury South MP who defected from the Tories to Labour minutes before PMQs this week – alleged that he had been told funding for a new school in his constituency would be withheld if he did not vote with the government over free school meals.
And on Friday, former Tory MP Ben Howlett claimed that he had been threatened over funding for a link road in his Bath constituency if he rebelled during votes on Brexit.
While other Conservatives have denied ever experiencing such behaviour, the row has sparked debate over the role of the whips, long-renowned for their sometimes ruthless enforcement of discipline among MPs.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, warned that obstruction of MPs in their work could constitute contempt of parliament, 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.
Earlier, Mr Kwarteng had said: “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.”