Johnson allies accused of intimidating MPs over no-confidence vote

PM ‘acting more like a mafia boss’ as pressures brought to bear on critics of behaviour

British prime minister Boris Johnson has responded to allegations made by senior Conservative MP William Wragg, saying that there is no evidence that MPs who oppose him are being blackmailed by his staff. Video: UK Parliament TV/Reuters

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A senior Conservative has accused Boris Johnson’s allies of intimidating and trying to blackmail MPs who are considering a vote of no confidence in the prime minister’s leadership, as a leading Brexiteer said the prime minister faced checkmate.

William Wragg,  chairman of the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said Mr Johnson’s critics had been subject to pressures and threats.

“In recent days, a number of members of parliament have faced pressures and intimidation from members of the government because of their declared or assumed desire for a vote of confidence in the party leadership of the prime minister,” Mr Wragg said in a statement before a meeting of the committee. “Moreover, the reports of which I’m aware, would seem to constitute blackmail,” he said.

Mr Wragg, who was among the first Conservative MPs to call for Mr Johnson’s resignation, advised those who had been threatened to speak to the speaker of the House of Commons or the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle said allegations of criminal behaviour such as blackmail were matters for the police.

‘Whipping system’

“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 influence] a member in their parliamentary conduct by threats,” he said.

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries rejected Mr Wragg’s allegations, telling the BBC: “That is nonsense because that is not how government works.”

Mr Johnson told broadcasters that he had “seen no evidence, heard no evidence to support any of those allegations”. But Christian Wakeford, the Bury South MP who defected from the Conservatives to Labour on Wednesday, said the government had threatened to withhold funding for a school in his constituency if he defied the whip.

“I was threatened that I would not get a school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way,” he said. 

“This is a town that has not had a high school for the best part of 10 years. How would you feel when they hold back the regeneration of a town for a vote? It didn’t sit comfortably. That was the start of me questioning my place, where I was and ultimately to where I am now.”

Lockdown-breaking parties

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said it was clear that all Mr Johnson cared about was saving his own skin. “He’s acting more like a mafia boss than a prime minister,” he said. “Number 10 is now in full scorched-earth mode. Every minute the Tories allow him to stay in power damages our country.”

Steve Baker, one of the chief organisers of the rebellions that forced Theresa May out of office in 2019, said he expected Mr Johnson to be driven out of Downing Street over the allegations of lockdown-breaking parties. But he told the BBC that he would not be organising against Mr Johnson because his heart would not be in it.

“Honestly, at the moment, I’m looking to the cabinet for leadership,” he said.  “At the moment, I’m afraid it does look like checkmate – but whether he can save himself, we’ll see.”

Asked what he meant by checkmate, Mr Baker added: “I feel a bit like we are all looking at the chessboard and you know how it goes – check, check, check, checkmate, and then people are all looking at the board, unless they are grandmasters, and saying, well is it over? And I think that is sort of where we are.”