Rebel Tories against PM consider publishing ‘heated’ secret exchange with chief whip after blackmail claims

Boris Johnson has insisted he has “seen no evidence” to support the claim made by senior Conservative William Wragg that his critics were facing “intimidation”

Rebel Tory MPs are considering publishing a secretly recorded “heated” exchange with the government chief whip, reports suggest.

The rebels, known as the “pork pie plotters”, are believed to have a secret recording and text messages linked to allegations of “blackmail” from the Prime Minister’s supporters.

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The MPs met on Thursday (20 January) evening after senior Conservative MP William Wragg told Parliament he had been informed of claims by MPs wanting to oust Boris Johnson from office that they have faced “intimidation” from whips that amount to blackmail.

William Wragg has urged MPs to report any attempt to “blackmail” them over their support for a no confidence motion against Boris Johnson (Photo: PA)

What’s been said?

Mr Wragg said he had received reports of conduct from “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 who they suspect of lacking confidence in the Prime Minister”.

One Tory MPs recorded a conversation they had with chief whip Mark Spencer after voting against the government last year which they said to be considering releasing to the public, the Times reports.

The MP told the paper: “They pulled me over and I told them I was voting against them.

"They got right up in my face. They told me that if you think you’re getting a single f***ing penny, forget it.

“If you think a minister is coming to your patch, forget it. You’re done.”

The MP is also understood to have text messages, as well as the recording, to support the accusations.

Mr Wragg is just one of a handful of Tory backbenchers to have publicly said they have submitted a letter to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership.

He said the conduct of the government Whips’ Office threatening to withdraw public funding from MPs’ constituencies may have breached the ministerial code.

Christian Wakeford, the MP who defected from the Tories to Labour in protest at Mr Johnson’s leadership and the row over Downing Street parties, also said he was threatened about the loss of a school in his constituency if he did not toe the line.

The Tory rebels reportedly met on Thursday to discuss their next steps.

The chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee said.“The intimidation of a Member of Parliament is a serious matter.

“Reports of which I am 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.”

Has the Prime Minister responded?

Boris Johnson insisted on Thursday that he had “seen no evidence” to support the claim made by Mr Wragg that his critics were facing “intimidation” to prevent him being ousted.

On a visit to Taunton, the PM said: “I’ve seen no evidence, heard no evidence, to support any of those allegations.”

He added that he would “of course” look for evidence to support the claims, but No 10 suggested there were no plans to launch an investigation as demanded by Labour.

The claims come ahead of the publication of an inquiry into claims of Covid rule-breaking gatherings across government.

Sue Gray, the senior official leading the inquiry, was said to have found an email warning Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds against holding a drinks party in the No 10 garden during the first lockdown.

The email, sent by a senior official, told Mr Reynolds that the gathering “should be cancelled because it broke the rules”, according to ITV News.

Mr Johnson has admitted attending the gathering for 25 minutes on 20 May 2020, but insisted he believed it was a work event, and that he was not warned it would be against the rules.

On the reports Ms Gray had found an email warning Mr Reynolds against holding a Downing Street drinks party, No 10 said it would not comment on the process of the ongoing investigation.

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