The senior MP who heads the Commons corruption watchdog has warned that government attempts to pressurise Tory MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson are illegal.
‘Misconduct in public office’
Chris Bryant is chairman of the Commons Standards Committee. He said threats to withdraw public funding from MPs’ constituencies amounted to “misconduct in public office”. And MPs should refer these threats to the police.
He added that there were even allegations Johnson had been directly involved. It comes as he battles to save his job ahead of a keenly-awaited report into lockdown parties in Downing Street.
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 to discuss his claims.
Bryant, a Labour MP, said he had spoken to “about a dozen” Conservatives in recent days. Government whips had either threatened them with having funding cut from their constituencies or promised funding if they voted “the right way”.
Bryant told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme:
I have even heard MPs alleging that the Prime Minister himself has been doing this…
What I have said to all of those people is that I think that is misconduct in public office. The people who should be dealing with such allegations are the police.
We are not the United States. We don’t run a ‘pork barrel’ system. It is illegal.
We are meant to operate as MPs without fear or favour. 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.
‘I am meeting the police early next week’
Earlier, Wragg said he would be meeting a Scotland Yard detective in the House of Commons early next week. He’s planning to raise the prospect of the police opening an investigation.
The disclosure came after Downing Street said it would not be mounting its own inquiry into the claims. That’s despite calls to do so by both Conservative and opposition MPs. But a No 10 spokesperson said it would only open an inquiry if it was presented with evidence to back up Wragg’s assertions.
However, the MP, who chairs the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he believed an investigation should be for the “experts” in the police.
And he told the Daily Telegraph that he would outline “several” examples of bullying and intimidation, in some cases involving public money. He told the newspaper:
I stand by what I have said. No amount of gas-lighting will change that…
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 spokesperson said:
As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.
Sue Gray’s report
Wragg’s latest intervention comes as No 10 is braced for the expected delivery of Sue Gray’s report next week. Gray is the senior civil servant investigating lockdown parties in Downing St and elsewhere in Whitehall.
It’s likely to lead to renewed calls from opposition parties for a police investigation if there is any evidence the prime minister and government staff broke coronavirus (Covid-19) rules.
Meanwhile Wragg is one of seven Tory MPs to have called publicly for the prime minister to resign. He stunned Westminster with his allegations of a campaign of intimidation by No 10 amounting to criminal conduct.
And 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.
Ministers have sought to dismiss the allegations, insisting the whips had no role in the allocation of public funding.
The latest disclosures will only fuel the febrile mood at Westminster, with Johnson’s political survival hanging in the balance.
Moreover, the publication of Gray’s report could potentially trigger a fresh wave of letters to the Tory backbench 1922 Committee’s chairman Graham Brady.
Under party rules, there will be a confidence vote in Johnson if 54 of the party’s MPs write to Brady calling for one.
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