DOWNING Street is resisting opening an investigation into claims Tory MPs were being “blackmailed” into supporting Boris Johnson to keep his job as PM.

We previously told how senior Tory William Wragg said rebels who had considered sending letters to 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady which would trigger a no confidence vote were being threatened that investments in constituencies would be “withdrawn” if they went ahead.

There were also claims of intimidation and pressure from Number 10 staff in a bid to keep Johnson in post.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she was "shocked" by the claims and called for an independent probe on Thursday, and the SNP has said the PM can't "sweep the claims under the carpet". 

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng disputed the allegation first made by Wragg 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 will only be launched “if there was any evidence” to support the claims, despite calls from Labour and Tory MPs.

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.

The National:

Christian Wakeford, the Bury South 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.

Kwarteng told Sky News: “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.”

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The Business Secretary said Wakeford’s “very serious” allegation has so far been “unsubstantiated”.

Kwarteng told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:“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.

“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 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.”

The National:

Johnson has faced multiple calls for him to resign amid the partygate scandals

The claims of intimidation come as Johnson battles 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.

SNP MP Pete Wishart said: "Mounting reports of threats, intimidation and blackmail is not something that Downing Street can attempt to brush under its already scandal-stuffed carpet.

"They need to be investigated properly, and most importantly, independently.

"Boris Johnson has lost all moral authority to lead and his government is the most corrupt in decades. If he continues to refuse to go, then it is on Tory MPs to act to remove him from office."

On Thursday, the Prime Minister said Wragg’s allegation will “of course” be looked into, but he added he has “seen no evidence” to support it.

The Times reported Tory MPs wanting to oust the Prime Minister are considering publishing a secretly recorded conversation with the chief whip, and messages, to help support the claims.

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Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader who is among those demanding Johnson’s resignation, said the allegations should be “properly investigated”.

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 calling for a no-confidence vote in Johnson’s leadership.

Wakeford said he had done the same before he defected to Labour shortly before Prime Minister’s Questions this week.

On Thursday he told BBC North West: “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.”

The National:

Wakeford defected to Labour on Wednesday just 15 minutes before PMQs

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 over a link road project if he did not support the Government during Brexit votes.

Howlett, the MP for Bath between 2015 and 2017, told the PA news agency: “If I was a less resilient MP, in those days I would’ve ended up thinking, ‘Oh god am I going to carry on rebelling against the Government on Brexit if my major campaign message was going to be undermined as a result’, there was some pretty devious tactics.”

On the current allegations in Westminster, he said: “As a Prime Minister who’s trying to build bridges with his backbenchers it doesn’t look very good at all, in fact it’s completely counterproductive at this moment in time to end up sending his flunkies to persuade a load of backbench MPs to go and support him by using tactics like that.”