May never sent whips to threaten people Tory infighting erupts at bullying claims
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William Wragg, a member of the 1922 committee which represents Tory backbenchers, claimed the tactics were used against Conservative MPs to prevent them triggering a vote of confidence in Boris Johnson’s leadership.
Friends of Mr Wragg have speculated that he will give the police names of party whips who allegedly blackmailed and threatened their colleagues with suggestions that MPs’ private lives would be leaked to the press, they would be deselected or money withheld from their constituencies.
It comes as the Labour head of the Commons “sleaze” watchdog said any such attempts to pressurise MPs would be illegal.
The row over the tactics used to prevent a party coup on Wednesday has seen Tory MPs turn on one another with many privately backing Mr Wragg.
One former minister said that the complaints were mostly coming from newer MPs who he described as “snowflakes”.
The minister said: “A lot of them were only elected in 2019, lockdown meant that they were away from parliament for a long time and spent little time here.
“They have very little experience of the realities of being an MP in Parliament or the ups and downs of politics in general.
“A lot of them are snowflakes who need to toughen up.”
Another senior MP said: “The whips are pretty mild compared to how they used to be.”
But veteran Tory MP Andrew Bridgen, who is one of the few MPs to come out publicly against Mr Johnson, said that he had never experienced such behaviour from the whips before.
He said: “It was not like this when we tried to oust Theresa May. She did not send her whips out to threaten people.
“That’s because Theresa, for all her failings over Brexit, has decency and integrity, unlike Boris.”
Mr Wragg said he will be meeting a Scotland Yard detective in the House of Commons early next week, raising the prospect police could open an investigation.
The disclosure came after Downing Street said it would not be mounting its own inquiry into the claims, despite calls to do so by both Conservative and opposition MPs.
A No 10 spokesman said it would only open an inquiry if it was presented with evidence to back up Mr Wragg’s assertions.
However Mr Wragg, who chairs the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he believed an investigation should be for the “experts” in the police.
“I stand by what I have said. No amount of gas-lighting will change that,” he said.
“The offer of Number 10 to investigate is kind but I shall leave it to the experts. I am meeting the police early next week.”
Former Tory MP Jerry Hayes threw his support behind Mr Wragg and said the claims should be investigated.
Mr Hayes told the BBC: “”We’ve got William Wragg, who is actually a serious figure, he’s not a snowflake, he’s not someone who can easily be bullied.
“Something has happened and he’s gone all the way to the Metropolitan Police. I just hope that we have an investigation. If he’s gone to the Metropolitan Police there must be something there, otherwise his career falls apart, doesn’t it?”
Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is chairman of the Commons Committee on Standards, said he had spoken to about a dozen Tory MPs in the past few days who had made similar allegations of whips threatening to withdraw funding for their constituencies, including for campaigning and infrastructure such as bypasses and schools.
“I’ve even heard MPs alleging that the prime minister himself has been doing this,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We are not the United States. We don’t run a ‘pork barrel’ system. It is illegal.”
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.”
Mr Wragg’s latest intervention comes as No 10 is braced for the expected delivery next week of the report of Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating lockdown parties in Downing St elsewhere in Whitehall.
It is likely to lead to renewed calls from opposition parties for a police investigation if there is any evidence Covid rules were broken – including at a drinks do in May 2020 attended by Mr Johnson.
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Mr Wragg, one of seven Tory MPs to have called publicly for the Prime Minister to resign, stunned Westminster with his allegations this week of a campaign of intimidation by No 10 amounting to criminal conduct.
However, a Tory MP and critic of the Prime Minister has said that he has never experienced or witnessed his party’s whips use blackmail.
When asked if he had experience bullying, Foreign Affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat said: “No, I haven’t, and as you may well know, I’ve not always been the Government’s biggest supporter. I have voted against the Government on occasions when I thought it right.
“I have to say I’ve always had a very close relationship with the chief whip and indeed a very productive relationship with whips, so I’m waiting to hear more about this because it’s not something I’ve seen or been told about.”
But Tory MP Bob Seely was asked if he thinks going to the police over claims that Conservative MPs were intimidated is the right course of action.
He told Times Radio: “William has to do what he wants. Personally I have a very good relationship with the whips, and at times I don’t vote with the Government, and I don’t recall ever being threatened by them once.”
Conservative MP Adam Holloway has dismissed allegations of attempts by Number 10 to blackmail MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson.
The MP for Gravesham said: “I can only speak for myself and I’ve never known anything like that.
“I’ve never known any sort of link with my behaviour in Parliament and resources coming into my constituency, so I suspect it’s complete bullshit.
“That’s what happens in American politics, I’ve got no sense of that here, ever in 16 years. It just doesn’t seem to work that way.”
When asked whether Mr Johnson’s position as Prime Minister is tenable amid controversy about Downing Street parties, he added: “I don’t believe in trial by television.
“Let’s hear what the civil servant Sue Gray has to say. I think she’s reporting on Wednesday.”
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