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UK lawmaker says he’ll go to police with ‘blackmail’ claims

January 23, 2022

LONDON: A British politician who accuses the government of blackmailing opponents of Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will take his allegations to the police.

William Wragg, a lawmaker from the governing Conservative Party, said legislators calling for a challenge to Johnson’s leadership have faced “intimidation” that amounted to “blackmail.”

Wragg alleged that rebellious lawmakers were threatened with a loss of public funding for their constituencies and had embarrassing stories about them leaked to the press.

Johnson has said he’s “seen no evidence” to support those claims. The prime minister is facing a political crisis over allegations that he and staff held lockdown-flouting parties while Britain was under coronavirus restrictions.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported on Saturday that Wragg said he would meet police early next week to discuss his claims of bullying and intimidation.

“I stand by what I have said. No amount of gaslighting will change that,” the newspaper quoted the lawmaker as saying.

London’s Metropolitan Police force said that “should a criminal offense be reported … it would be considered.”

A handful of Conservative lawmakers, including Wragg, have called for Johnson to resign. Others are awaiting a report by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant appointed to investigate claims that government staff held late-night soirees, “bring your own booze” parties and “wine time Fridays” while Britain was under coronavirus restrictions in 2020 and 2021.

Gray's findings are expected to be published next week. Johnson has apologized for attending a party in the garden of his Downing Street offices in May 2020 but said he had considered it a work gathering that fell within the social distancing rules in place at the time.

If Gray casts doubt on his explanation, more Conservative lawmakers may be emboldened to call for a no-confidence vote in Johnson that result in his ouster. Removal from leadership would be a stunning downfall for a politician who has shrugged off previous scandals over offensive comments, falsehoods and financial irregularities.

Wragg’s allegations have cast a light on the shadowy world of whips — lawmakers tasked with maintaining party discipline and ensuring their colleagues back the government in key votes.

They use subtle and not-so-subtle pressure, and have been accused of sometimes crossing a line and using threats to get members of Parliament to fall into line.

Christian Wakeford, a lawmaker who defected from the Conservatives to the opposition Labour Party on Wednesday, said he was told he would not get a new high school for the district he represents “if I did not vote in one particular way.”

Other Conservative lawmakers said they were never threatened by whips.

Labour lawmaker Chris Bryant, who heads the House of Commons standards committee, said claims such as Wakeford's were reminiscent of US-style “pork barrel politics,” and should not become part of the British system.

“We are meant to operate as MPs without fear or favor,” Bryant said. “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.”