War on the whips as Tory rebels threaten police action amid blackmail claims

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William Wragg is one of the MPs who has led criticism of the Tory whipping operation - NurPhoto via Getty Images
William Wragg is one of the MPs who has led criticism of the Tory whipping operation - NurPhoto via Getty Images

Tory rebels plotting to oust Boris Johnson on Thursday claimed the police should be brought in to deal with allegations that party whips tried to "blackmail" critical MPs.

With civil servant Sue Gray's report into "partygate" not expected until next week, rebels on Thursday turned their anger on the Tory whipping operation.

Rebels accused whips of threatening to withhold funds from their constituencies and release compromising material on them.

But Mr Johnson denied knowledge of bullying tactics and whip sources accused the rebels of lying, demanding they provide proof.

It formed a fightback from the "pork pie plotters" - so named because a critical MP represents the area of Melton Mowbray - aimed at damaging the whips, who oversee party discipline.

A group of eight MP critics met on Thursday to compare hardline messages from the whips, The Telegraph can reveal. Some are threatening to release a dossier of evidence.

"We want the chief whip's head on a spike," said one MP who is seeking Mr Johnson's political demise.

A source close to the rebels told The Times: "One member has recorded a heated conversation that they had with the chief whip."

The chief whip is Mark Spencer, one of the Prime Minister's closest allies who is attempting to dissuade potential rebels from bringing down Mr Johnson.

However, a source involved in the whipping operation said claims of threats and blackmail were "complete b-------".

The source struck back: "Ask them for a single shred of evidence."

The attempt to force the “dark arts” of party whipping into the open came from William Wragg, the Tory MP who chairs the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Delivering a statement at the start of a committee hearing, Mr Wragg - one of the first MPs to go public with a call for Mr Johnson to resign this week - has turned his focus on the Tory whipping operation in recent days.

Mr Wragg said: “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.

“Additionally, reports to me and others of members of staff at Number 10 Downing Street, special advisers, government ministers and others encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those who suspect lack in confidence in the Prime Minister is similarly unacceptable.

“The intimidation of a Member of Parliament is a serious matter. Moreover, reports of which I’m aware would seem to constitute blackmail.”

He added that those allegedly on the receiving end should contact Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the House of Commons Speaker, or the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Mr Wragg also alerted Sir Lindsay Hoyle to the allegations, with the Commons Speaker warning ministers that the claims, if proven, would amount to contempt of Parliament.

Sir Lindsay later told MPs that those who work for the Government “are not above the criminal law”.

He added: “The investigation of alleged criminal conduct is a matter for the police and decisions about prosecution are for the CPS. It would be wrong of me to interfere in such matters.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.”

Responding to the claims, Mr Johnson told reporters he had “seen no evidence to support any of those allegations”. Other MPs accused Mr Wragg of exaggerating the issue in a bid to encourage more colleagues to submit letters of no confidence.

However, an MP familiar with the allegations told The Telegraph that the examples included colleagues being threatened with losing access to various local funding pots, including the Levelling Up Fund, Community Renewal Fund and Town Fund.

They also alleged that similar threats had been made during votes on cuts to the foreign aid budget, as well as an attempt by Tory MPs to amend the trade bill to accuse China of committing genocide.

His claims were also backed publicly by Christian Wakeford, who on Wednesday defected from the Tories to Labour in protest over Mr Johnson’s handling of the party-gate scandal.

Speaking to reporters later in the day, Mr Wakeford said he was threatened with the loss of a school in his constituency if he failed to vote in a “particular way” during a debate on extending free school meals provision to cover the holidays during the pandemic.

"This is a town that's not had a high school for the best part of 10 years, and how would you feel when holding back the regeneration of a town for a vote,” he told the BBC.

"It didn't sit comfortably and that was when I was really starting to question my place, where I was, and ultimately where I am now."

But Michael Fabricant, the MP for Lichfield, criticised Mr Wragg, saying: “If I reported every time I had been threatened by a whip or if a whip reported every time I had threatened them, the police wouldn’t have any time to conduct any other police work.”

A second Tory MP said: “I have never had any experience of that in the near five years I've been here. I’ve never received intimidation or threats from anybody in government.

“This is a grown up’s game and this is a situation where members of the party are trying to get rid of the leader.”

Meanwhile, Steve Baker, the Conservative MP who plotted to oust Theresa May as prime minister, said it could be "checkmate" for Mr Johnson as he clings on to power.

Mr Baker told the BBC's Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast: "It's a sorry situation we're in. I'm appalled we've reached this position.

"We didn't make Boris Johnson Prime Minister for his meticulous grasp of tedious rules but this is appalling and the public are rightly furious.

"At the moment I'm afraid it does look like checkmate but whether he can save himself, we'll see."

Liz Truss, who has been tipped as a possible successor to Mr Johnson, insisted on Friday morning that the Prime Minister had her full support.

Speaking during a visit to Australia, the Foreign Secretary was asked by reporters in Sydney if Mr Johnson's leadership was "tenable".

She replied: "The Prime Minister has my 100 per cent support. He is doing an excellent job."

Ms Truss added: "I want the Prime Minister to continue as long as possible in his job. He is doing a fantastic job. There is no leadership election."

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