Gavin Williamson accused of threatening MP Christian Wakeford over school funding

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 (PA)
(PA)

Former cabinet minister Gavin Williamson has been accused of threatening school funding in the constituency of a recently defected Tory MP, who was considering voting against the government.

Christian Wakeford, who joined the Labour Party earlier this week, first made the claim that he was “threatened that I would not get the school for Radcliffe if I do not vote in one particular way” on Thursday.

“It’s a town that’s not had a high school for the best part of ten years and how would you feel holding back the regeneration of the town for a vote,” the Bury South MP said.

At the time, he did not reveal who was responsible, but speaking to The Sunday Times, the MP alleged Mr Williamson, who was then education secretary, had made the threat to cancel the school outside the Members’ Dining Room in Parliament.

Mr Wakeford said the former cabinet minister had told him: ‘It’s not very helpful to back an opposition [motion] against the department where you’re wanting an extremely large favour from said department, so do consider what you’re doing.”

Referring to Mr Williamson’s previous stint as chief whip, Mr Wakeford also told the newspaper: “I know the maxim is ‘once a whip, always a whip’, but yeah, that one was Gavin.”

In the event, the MP for Bury South chose to abstain in the debate on free school meals in October 2020, and funding for the school went through as planned the following February.

In response, Mr Williamson told the paper that he did not remember any such conversation taking place with Mr Wakeford. “I don’t have any recollection of the conversation as described but what I do remember is working tirelessly with Christian and others in order to be able to deliver this school, which I did,” he said.

“Such major investment decisions are made after close analysis of the benefits that the investment will bring and certainly not something that can be decided in a brief conversation like the one described.” Mr Williamson has been contacted by The Independent.

The row coincides with intense scrutiny on the actions of government whips, after the senior Conservative MP, William Wragg, used a statement in Parliament this week to allege some backbenchers had “faced pressures and intimidation” for considering submitting letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s leadership.

Speaking on Thursday, Mr Wragg suggested that threats were being made to “withdraw investments” from constituents of those who opposed the prime minister, adding: “The reports which I’m aware would seem to constitute blackmail”.

However, a No 10 spokesperson insisted they were not “aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations”, adding: “If there is any evidence to support these claims we would look at it very carefully.”

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