POLITICS: Tories who want Boris to resign ‘facing intimidation and blackmail’ and should contact police, MP says

MPs who are, or assumed to be wanting to oust the PM, have been threatened with having funding for projects in their constituencies pulled, a leading MP has said

Westminster where the atmosphere is febrile this week as Boris Johnston clings on.

By Bill Heaney

Sky News is reporting that Conservative MPs who want Boris Johnson to resign have been intimidated by their party and should contact the police if they have been blackmailed, a senior Tory has warned.

William Wragg, chair of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, said a “number of MPs have faced intimidation” in recent days after declaring, or assumed to have declared, their desire for a vote of confidence in the PM.

He told the committee it is “not the function” of the government whips office to breach the ministerial code by “threatening to withdraw investments in constituencies funded by the public purse”.

There have been growing calls for Mr Johnson to stand down amid anger among his MPs over parties and gatherings in Downing Street during coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.

Mr Wragg accused the whips of “encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those that they suspect of lacking confidence in their prime minister”.

He added that “intimidation of a member of parliament is a serious matter” and the reports he has been told of “would seem to constitute blackmail”.

MPs who have been threatened with alleged blackmail should contact the Speaker of the House and the head of the Metropolitan Police, Dame Cressida Dick, Mr Wragg said.

“It is of course the duty of the government whips office to secure the government’s business in the House of Commons,” he said.

“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.”

Mr Wragg is one of a handful of Conservatives who have publicly called for Mr Johnson to go over the lockdown parties scandal, but he did not reveal if he had been intimidated or blackmailed by the whips office.

The PM said he had seen “no evidence to support any of those allegations” but “of course” he would look at any evidence presented to him.

WHAT DO WHIPS DO?

Each party appoints MPs, who must be party loyalists, to help organise and guide parliamentary business – these are the whips.

The term “whip” comes from hunting etymology where a “whipper-in” whips the hounds to keep them from straying from the pack.

One of their responsibilities is to make sure the maximum number of their MPs vote, and vote the way their party wants to get government business through parliament.

They are charged with promoting the leadership’s agenda, not the back benchers, and are a go-between for the two.

How whips encourage MPs to vote the way the government wants is often secretive, but can involve them offering time off, promises of promotion, trips abroad and even a better – or worse – office.

The whip can be removed from all of a party’s MPs so they have a free vote.

A one-line whip is when a vote is underlined once in a weekly email and means MPs are requested to attend but not required.

Two lines, rarely used, means an MP should be there but will not face drastic consequences if not, while a three-line whip means an MP has to attend and vote the way the government wants.

MPs can have the whip withdrawn, which means they are expelled from the party so remain an MP but are independent as they are no longer expected to follow the whip.

‘Mafia tactics’

Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael, who was once a Procurator Fiscal in Dumbarton,  brought Mr Wragg’s statement up in the Commons, saying he had had “never heard” of this type of behaviour before and said it was more the tactics of “the mafia” than parliament.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle replied by saying they are “serious allegations” and reminded whips they “are not above the criminal law” and any allegations should be investigated by the police, without his interference.

He warned it is “contempt to obstruct members in the discharge of their duty or to attempt to intimidate a member in their parliamentary conduct by threats”.

There is a “clear process” for dealing with these matters, he said as he told any MPs with concerns should write to him.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “We are not aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations.

“If there is any evidence to support these claims we would look at it very carefully.”

Mr Wragg’s intervention comes a day after Bury South MP Christian Wakeford defected from the Conservatives to Labour.

Mr Wakeford had been one of the Tory MPs who submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson and was said to have been “hauled” in by the Tory chief whip the night before.

A Conservative MP told Sky News it “sent him over the edge when they threatened his seat” with having its boundary changed.

“This is what bully tactics look like,” the MP said.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the accusations by Mr Wragg are “shocking”, adding: “We need this to be investigated thoroughly.”

However, locally, there has been criticism of how the Labour Party acted in regard to the Wakeford switch.

One member of West Dunbartonshire Council said: “It’s quite disgusting that this man should be welcomed into the Labour Party. A look at the right wing Tory policies he has backed since being elected would support this view.

“It is alarming that others wishing to stand for Labour have to go through a rigorous selection process and lengthy interview before they can join the party, never mind walk across the floor of the Commons and sit on the Labour benches.

“That union flag on his face mask is a hint to how far right this man’s political views are. We’ll see how it all shakes out, but it’s not a good look for the Labour Party.”

One comment

  1. A directionless Westminster Government in absolute chaos ripping itself apart.

    That’s the Tories. But you know what, folks don’t care. Well not in Scotland because if they did, they’d do something about it.

    And do we remember Labour’s Feeble Fifty. Well that mantle has now passed to the SNP.

    And as to the comment from someone in the West Dunbartonshire Council about it being a disgrace that the Bury South tory MP was allowed to cross the floor in Westminster and join the Labour Party, what does that tell you about the political allegiance of the local politico alleged to have made the statement. Politics ain’t delivering. Not with a comment like that. And most certainly not for ordinary folks. And that’s a fact!

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