The chair of the Commons "sleaze" watchdog told Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt that government attempts to pressurise Tory MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson could be illegal
The senior MP who heads the Commons “sleaze” watchdog said he has spoken to “about a dozen” Conservatives in recent days who said they had either been threatened or bribed by government whips.Chris Bryant, chair of the Commons Standards Committee, said threats to withdraw public funding from MPs’ constituencies amounted to “misconduct in public office” and should be referred to the police.
He added that some MPs had been promised funding if they voted “the right way”.
Chris Bryant said he knew of at least one claim involving Boris Johnson
Mr Bryant, who is a senior Labour MP, said that around twelve Conservative MPs had made claims of threats and bribery to him.
There were even allegations the prime minister had been directly involved in pressuring MPs, Mr Bryant told ITV News.
"Quite a few Tory MPs have told me worrying stories about whips and government ministers and others saying, 'if you don’t go the right way on this, you won’t get your school, you won’t get your hospital, you won’t get your bypass' - I think that’s a misconduct in a public office," he said.
Adding: "On at least one occasion I'm told the prime minister has been saying it himself."
"MPs should not vote according to fear or fervour they should vote according to need and what is the right thing for the country."
His intervention came after William Wragg, the senior Tory MP who first raised concerns about attempted “blackmail” by No 10, disclosed that he is to meet police next week to discuss his claims.
Mr Wragg accused Number 10 staff, special advisers and ministers of threatening to release embarrassing stories to the press of him and other MPs if they did not support the prime minister.
MP William Wragg claimed whips had threatened to withdraw funding if MPs did not back Boris Johnson
The chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee also said Number 10 had threatened to withdraw funding to his and other backbenchers' constituencies if they did not withdraw their opposition to Mr Johnson.
Mr Wragg said he will be meeting a Scotland Yard detective in the House of Commons, raising the prospect police could open an investigation. He also urged MPs to contact the police force if they had been threatened or intimidated.
On Thursday, Mr Wragg said "the intimidation of a member of parliament is a serious matter", adding: "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 Metropolitan Police."
The PM said there is "no evidence to support any of those allegations" but said he would "of course" look for proof.
Number 10 said "If there is any evidence to support these claims we would look at it very carefully".
It said it does not plan to launch an inquiry into Mr Wragg's accusations unless it was presented with evidence to back up the Hazel Grove MP's assertions.
However Mr Wragg said he believed an investigation should be for the "experts" in the police.
He told The Daily Telegraph that he would outline "several" examples of bullying and intimidation, in some cases involving public money.
"I stand by what I have said. No amount of gaslighting will change that," he told the newspaper.
"The offer of Number 10 to investigate is kind but I shall leave it to the experts. I am meeting the police early next week."
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered."
A spokesperson for the Speaker's office said: "If the matters are criminal, they should be referred to the police. If it is a matter of privilege, the Speaker should be informed in the first instance."
Mr Wragg's latest intervention comes as No 10 is braced for the expected delivery next week of the report of Sue Gray, the senior civil servant investigating lockdown parties in Downing St elsewhere in Whitehall.
ITV News understands Ms Gray will only publish a summary of her report and not all of the evidence she gets.
The report is also expected to go to Mr Johnson before it is made public, but the PM may get it only a matter of hours before everyone else.
It is likely to lead to renewed calls from opposition parties for a police investigation if there is any evidence Covid rules were broken - including at a drinks do in May 2020 attended by Mr Johnson who claims he believed it was a "work event".
The report could also trigger a fresh wave of letters to the chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee Sir Graham Brady. Under party rules there will be a confidence vote in Mr Johnson if 54 of the party’s MPs write to Sir Graham calling for one. Mr Johnson is expected to spend the weekend at Chequers, his official country residence, ringing round potential rebels urging them not to plunge the dagger.
The Times reported the Prime Minister had reassembled the ministerial team which helped him mount his successful leadership bid in 2019 as he seeks to shore up support. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is reportedly playing key role in the operation along with three former whips and other loyalists.
Mr Wragg, one of seven Tory MPs to have called publicly for the prime minister to resign, stunned Westminster with his allegations this week of a campaign of intimidation by No 10 amounting to criminal conduct.
He said Conservative MPs trying to trigger a no confidence vote in Mr Johnson had been told public funding for projects in their constituencies would be cut off and threatened with stories in the press to embarrass them.
Christian Wakeford, the Bury South MP who defected to Labour, later described how the Tory whips had warned him over funding for a new school in his constituency if he rebelled in a vote over free school meals.
Bury South MP Christian Wakeford said "threats" made him start to question his place within the Conservative Party, which he had been a member of for two decades.
Ministers have sought to dismiss the allegations, insisting the whips had no role in the allocation of public funding.
On Saturday, senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said that he has never experienced or witnessed his party’s whips using blackmail.The MP for Tonbridge and Malling said on BBC Breakfast: “I have to say I’ve always had a very close relationship with the chief whip and indeed a very productive relationship with whips, so I’m waiting to hear more about this because it’s not something I’ve seen or been told about.”
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng however acknowledged on Friday that Mr Wakeford's allegation was "very serious" and he was "sure" that it would be investigated.
But a spokesperson for the prime minister said: "We're not aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations.
"If there was any evidence to support it, it would of course be looked at."