Boris Johnson's lieutenants accused of blackmailing MPs to gain support

The attack is the latest salvo in a fight over whether Boris Johnson should stay as leader

In the face of mounting pressure, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed he will not step down. PA

A senior Conservative MP has accused the British government of intimidating and attempting to blackmail backbenchers they suspect of wanting to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of power.

William Wragg, chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, accused Mr Johnson's team of “intimidation” in a blistering attack on Thursday and said victims should report incidences to the police.

He said perpetrators included “members of staff at 10 Downing Street, special advisers, government ministers and others encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those they who suspect of lacking confidence in the Prime Minister”.

“The intimidation of a Member of Parliament is a serious matter, reports of which I am aware would seem to constitute blackmail,” he said at the start of a committee hearing.

The attack is the latest salvo in a fight over whether Boris Johnson should stay as leader of the Conservative Party, and with it remain prime minister.

Boris Johnson insisted he had not seen any evidence to support Mr Wragg’s claims of intimidatory tactics against his Tory critics.

“I’ve seen no evidence to support any of those allegations. What I am focused on is what we’re doing to deal with the number one priority of the British people, which is coming through Covid,” he said.

Mr Wragg is one of a handful of Tory MPs to have said publicly they have submitted a letter to the chairman of the back bench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a no-confidence vote.

On Wednesday, Conservative MP Christian Wakeford defected to the opposition Labour benches with criticism over Mr Johnson's integrity.

Another Tory MP, David Davis, addressed Mr Johnson, adapting a quote made to former prime minister Neville Chamberlain before his 1940 resignation by Leo Amery: “You have sat here for too long for the good you have done, in the name of God, go!”

Mr Davis later said: “I've just made myself the most unpopular person in the Tory party. Well, the second-most unpopular. But I've gone from thinking maybe we can rescue it to maybe we just have to accelerate it and get it done.”

The attack was taken up again on Thursday by Mr Wragg.

“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 informed the committee.

“Moreover, the reports of which I'm aware would seem to constitute blackmail. As such, it would be my general advice to colleagues to report these matters to the speaker of the House of Commons and the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.”

William Wragg has roiled the Conservative Party further by lifting the lid on accusations of coercion levelled against its whips. Getty Images

Mr Wragg was speaking amid the developing scandal around Downing Street lockdown parties.

“It is not [whips'] function to breach the ministerial code in threatening to withdraw investments from Members of Parliaments’ constituencies which are funded from the public purse,” he said.

Some MPs have attempted to oust Mr Johnson, who has vowed to fight on and insisted he would lead the Conservatives into the next general election, scheduled for 2024.

Mr Johnson won a large majority in 2019 but is facing growing calls to step down over a series of controversies, including MPs' second jobs and a refurb of the prime ministerial Downing Street flat.

But the lockdown parties have sparked the widest anger.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called for a full investigation into Mr Wragg's claims.

“These are grave and shocking accusations of bullying, blackmail and misuse of public money and must be investigated thoroughly,” she said.

“The idea that areas of our country will be starved of funding because their MPs don't fall into line to prop up this failing prime minister is disgusting. ”

In response to Mr Wragg’s allegations, a Downing Street representative said: “We are not aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations. If there is any evidence to support these claims we would look at it very carefully.”

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Speaker of the House of Commons, said it would be a contempt to obstruct MPs in doing their duties by trying to intimidate.

He noted the “serious allegations” made by Mr Wragg, before offering general guidance to MPs as he had not yet had a chance to study the specific details, he said.

“The investigation of allegedly criminal conduct is a matter for the police and decisions about prosecution are for the Crown Prosecution Service,” he said. “It will be wrong of me to interfere with such matters.

“While the whipping system is long-established, it is of course a contempt to obstruct members

in the discharge of their duty or to attempt to intimidate a member in their parliamentary conduct by threats.”

Mr Wragg's intervention reignited the controversy over Mr Johnson's future as the mood at Westminster appeared to be calming.

An investigation into the lockdown parties is being led by Sue Gray, a civil servant. Mr Johnson says he attended what he thought was a work event on May 20, 2020, to which staff had been told to “bring their own booze".

Mr Johnson said on Tuesday nobody had told him at the time that the gathering was against Covid-19 rules, and on Wednesday he told Parliament he would not resign.

Watch: Boris Johnson says he won't resign

Updated: January 20, 2022, 3:47 PM