Boris Johnson and senior Conservative Party figures allegedly threatened to withhold funding from the constituencies of around 12 rebel Tory MPs if they did not cease their efforts to oust the prime minister from office, the chair of the House of Commons’ internal watchdog has claimed.
Labour MP Chris Bryant made the bombshell allegations on a BBC radio program on Saturday, telling the public broadcaster that several Tory MPs had told him they had either been given a warning by Johnson or the party whips, or been promised “levelling-up” funding if they “vote[d] the right way.”
Noting that any such “illegal” activity amounted to “misconduct in public office,” Bryant asserted that the “allocation of taxpayer funding to constituencies should be according to need, not according to the need to keep the prime minister in his job.”
He added that the levelling-up funds introduced last spring to renew infrastructure across the country appeared to have offered “an open opportunity for government ministers to corruptly hand out money to some MPs and not to others.”
The first allegation of “blackmail” by the whips was made on Thursday by Conservative MP William Wragg. He claimed Johnson’s critics were being subjected to threats and “intimidation” by Downing Street staffers. Wragg, who has submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister, told The Telegraph he would “stand by what I have said” and that “no amount of gas-lighting will change that.”
Although Wragg said he had arranged to meet with a Scotland Yard detective next week to discuss “several examples” of government bullying, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police declined to confirm whether it would be getting involved in the matter. They said, however, that “as with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.”
The potential police involvement would be a significant escalation of the ongoing battle between senior Tory officials and vocal party backbenchers frustrated with Johnson’s leadership. It would represent another setback at a time when Downing Street is grappling with the fallout from its ‘Partygate’ scandal.
A spokesperson for Johnson said on Friday that the prime minister’s office would launch an inquiry into the allegations of blackmail only if evidence was provided to support the claims.