Boris Johnson: Tories who want PM to resign ‘facing intimidation and blackmail’ from party and should contact police, MP says

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Conservative MPs who want Boris Johnson to resign have been intimidated by the 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”.

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Whips ‘blackmailing MPs and encouraging embarrassing stories’

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.

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Senior Tory tells PM to ‘go’

“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 constituency 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 Downing Street 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 backbenchers, 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 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.

The Speaker, Sir Lindsay Doyle, 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”.

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PM says he did not lie

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.”

MP who defected ‘faced intimidation from whips office’

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.

Christian Wakeford MP
Christian Wakeford switched from the Conservatives to Labour

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” and said: “We need this to be investigated thoroughly.”

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