Downing Street was resisting opening an investigation into allegations of Tory MPs being blackmailed into supporting UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he faces a threat to his leadership, despite a Cabinet minister saying they needed to be looked at.
UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng disputed the allegation first made by a senior Conservative, but said if true it would be “completely unacceptable” and ministers “need to get to the bottom of the matter”.
But No 10 suggested on Friday that an investigation would only be launched “if there was any evidence” to support the claims, despite calls from Labour and Tory MPs.
William Wragg said critics considering triggering a no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson were receiving threats to “withdraw investments” from constituencies, as well as “intimidation” from No 10 staff.
Mr Wragg, chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said the threats could amount to “blackmail” and urged colleagues to report them to the police.
Christian Wakeford, a Tory MP who defected from the Tories to Labour, then said he was threatened that funding for a new school in his constituency would be withheld if he did not vote with the Government over free school meals.
Mr Kwarteng told: “As far as the specific allegation about whips withholding funds, I think that’s completely unacceptable.
“Any form of blackmail and intimidation of that kind simply has no place in British politics.
“We need to get to the bottom of the matter. But I find it very unlikely that these allegations are true.”
The Business Secretary said Mr Wakeford’s “very serious” allegation has so far been “unsubstantiated”.
“I’m sure it will be investigated if it’s not being so already – after 12 years as an MP I’ve never heard anything like this,” Mr Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“Having been an MP for 12 years I’ve never heard of anyone making a threat, certainly not to me or to anybody else of that kind, doesn’t mean it’s not true.”
But a spokesman for the Mr Johnson 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.”
Mr Kwarteng described Mr Wakeford, who was elected to Bury South in 2019 on a wafer-thin majority, of having “essentially turned coat” in switching to Labour.
“I don’t know what his motivations were, and as you’ll appreciate he’s a Labour MP now and, of course, part of his job is to try and discredit the Government,” he told Sky News.
Mr Kwarteng said he had never experienced bullying from the Government whips.
“Generally, my whips were a lot shorter than I was over the years,” he told, adding that therefore “I’m not sure how the physical intimidation or other forms of intimidation” would have been effective.
The claims of intimidation came as Mr Johnson battled to remain in power ahead of the result of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into allegations of rule-breaking partying during coronavirus restrictions.
The result of her investigation is not expected until next week.
On Thursday, Boris Johnson said Mr Wragg’s allegation will “of course” be looked into but said he has “seen no evidence” to support it.
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, Graham Brady, calling for a no-confidence vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership.
Mr Wakeford said he had done the same before he defected to Labour shortly before Prime Minister’s Questions this week.
On Thursday he told: “I was threatened that I would not get the school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way. This is a town that’s not had a high school for the best part of 10 years.”
New claims of threats under a previous administration also emerged on Friday, when former Tory MP Ben Howlett said an ex-whip warned him funds would be withheld from his constituency if he did not support the Government during Brexit votes.
Mr Howlett, the MP for Bath between 2015 and 2017, told: “I was campaigning for a range of different things for my constituents, particularly my constituents will remember my campaign on link road.
“There were some very dicey votes for the Government and I was campaigning to receive Government funding, and of course one of the tactics used to make sure I fell into line on some of the Brexit rebellions was to threaten the withholding of money to pay for an investigation into whether or not this link road would have been built.”