A Cabinet minister has said an investigation should be held into ‘totally unacceptable’ allegations that Tory critics of Boris Johnson have been blackmailed into supporting him.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said ministers ‘need to get to the bottom of it’ but thought it was ‘highly unlikely’ claims made by colleagues were true.
Senior Tory MP William Wragg said critics considering triggering a no-confidence vote against the Prime Minister were receiving threats to ‘withdraw investment’ from constituencies, as well as ‘intimidation’ from No 10 staff.
Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South who defected from the Conservatives to Labour, later said he had been threatened with withholding funding for a new school in his constituency if he did not vote with the government for free school meals.
Mr Kwarteng told Sky News: ‘In relation to the specific allegation about whips withholding funds, I think that is completely unacceptable. Any such form of blackmail and intimidation simply has no place in British politics.
“We have to get to the bottom of it. But I find it highly unlikely that these claims are true.
“I’m sure it will be investigated if it hasn’t already been – after 12 years as an MP, I’ve never heard of anything like it,” Mr Kwarteng told Reuters. BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“Having been an MP for 12 years I’ve never heard of anyone making a threat, certainly not to me or anyone else like that, that doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
But he also described Mr Wakeford, who was elected to Bury South in 2019 by a slim margin, of having ‘essentially turned the coat’ on his way to work.
Mr Kwarteng said he had never been bullied by government whips.
“Generally my whips were much shorter than me over the years,” he told LBC, adding that therefore “I don’t know how physical bullying or other forms of bullying” would have been effective.
The damaging allegations came as Mr Johnson struggled to stay in power ahead of the outcome of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into alleged rule breaches during coronavirus restrictions.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister said Mr Wragg’s allegation would “of course” be looked into, but insisted he had “seen no evidence” to support it.
But The Times reported that Tory MPs wanting to oust the prime minister were considering releasing a secretly recorded conversation with the chief whip and messages to help back up the claims.
Mr Wragg is one of the few Tory backbenchers to have said publicly that they had submitted a letter to the chairman of the 1922 backbench committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a vote of no confidence in towards Mr. Johnson’s leadership.
Mr Wakeford said he did the same before defecting to Labor shortly before Prime Minister’s Questions this week.
On Thursday he told BBC North West: ‘I was threatened that I wouldn’t get school for Radcliffe if I didn’t vote a particular way. It’s a town that hasn’t had a high school for almost 10 years.