The Conservative Party has been embroiled in more infighting as reports suggest rebel Tory MPs are considering publishing a secret recording and text messages linked to allegations of “blackmail” from the British prime minister’s supporters.
Boris Johnson insisted on Thursday he had “seen no evidence” to support the claim made by senior Conservative William Wragg that his critics were facing “intimidation” as part of an effort to prevent him being ousted from office.
But The Times has reported that Tory MPs keen to see the back of Mr Johnson have a secretly recorded “heated” conversation with the chief whip, as well as text messages to support the accusations.
It comes as Sue Gray, the senior official leading an inquiry into claims of rule-busting gatherings across the UK government, was said to have found an email warning Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary Martin Reynolds against holding a drinks party in the Number 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 in question for 25 minutes on May 20th, 2020, but insisted he believed it was a work event, and that he was not warned it would be against the rules.
The British prime minister has been battling claims that Tory critics are facing “intimidation” which could amount to blackmail as part of an effort to keep him in post.
Mr Wragg said on Thursday he had received reports of conduct including “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”.
“The intimidation of a Member of Parliament is a serious matter. Reports of which I am aware would seem to constitute blackmail,” the chairman of the UK Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee said.
“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.”
But Mr Johnson, on a visit to Taunton, said: “I’ve seen no evidence, heard no evidence, to support any of those allegations.”
He said he would “of course” look for evidence to support the claims, but Number 10 suggested there were no plans to launch an investigation as demanded by Labour.
The Times reported that one Tory MP said they were told by a whip “you’re done” when voting against the UK government last year.
The paper also claimed Tory rebels met on Thursday to discuss their next steps.
Mr Wragg is one of a handful of Tory backbenchers to have said publicly 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 British 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, said he was threatened about the loss of a school in his constituency if he did not toe the line.
The Metropolitan Police said they would consider any complaints made to officers.
“As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered,” a spokesman said.
On the reports Ms Gray had found an email warning Mr Reynolds against holding a Downing Street drinks party, Number 10 said it would not comment on the process of the ongoing investigation.