Rebel Tory MPs, known as the “pork pie plotters”, are considering publishing a secretly recorded “heated” exchange with the government chief whip, according to reports.
The MPs, from the 2019 intake of Tories, met on Thursday evening after senior Conservative MP William Wragg told parliament he has been informed of claims by MPs wanting to oust Boris Johnson that they have faced intimidation from whips that amounts to blackmail.
One member of the group recorded a conversation they had with chief whip Mark Spencer after voting against the government last year which they are considering releasing to the public, the Times reports.
“They pulled me over and I told them I was voting against them,” the MP told the Times.
“They got right up in my face. They told me that if you think you’re getting a single f***ing penny, forget it. If you think a minister is coming to your patch forget it. You’re done.”
There are also allegedly text messages from whips they could release.
On Friday morning, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News he was “very surprised” to see claims whips had threatened to withhold funds because the whips office does not have power over spending, however he said the allegations need looking into.
He added: “I think that is completely unacceptable, I think any form of blackmail and intimidation of that kind simply has no place in British politics.
“Forgive me, I don’t think it is something that I’ve ever heard of, I don’t think this is happening.”
Yesterday, the PM said he has seen “no evidence to support” claims that Conservative MPs who want him to resign have been intimidated by party officials.
Fears are growing inside 10 Downing Street that former pub landlady Sue Gray could call time on Boris Johnson in her Whitehall report on partygate.
Sky News understands there is nervousness in Number 10 over what the top civil servant’s report on the Downing Street parties – which some MPs believe could be published as early as Monday – will reveal.
According to sources, some in Downing Street fear the investigation has unearthed damaging evidence and they are now doubtful the report will clear the prime minister.
But, as he faces the threat of more demands from Conservative MPs for a confidence vote after the report is published, Mr Johnson‘s closest allies insist he can ride out the storm.
But Sky News has learned that there are parts of Whitehall where the mood is darkening and some insiders believe the PM will struggle to answer questions posed in the report.
Although his allies dispute this, they admit they will not know until the report is published, at which point Mr Johnson has promised to make a Commons statement to MPs.
The PM’s enemies claim that after a lull in their campaign to submit letters to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady demanding a confidence vote, more rebel MPs are poised to strike after the report is published.
However, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss reiterated her support for Mr Johnson during a news conference in Sydney, Australia.
When questioned about partygate, Ms Truss said: “The prime minister has my 100% support. He is doing an excellent job. I want the prime minister to continue as long as possible and he is doing a fantastic job.”
Key email could condemn prime minister
Fears about the verdict of Ms Gray’s inquiry have been prompted by reports that she has learned that the civil servant who organised the Downing Street party on 20 May 2020 was urged to cancel it.
The Daily Telegraph reports Ms Gray has found an email that allegedly confirms allegations that concerns were raised over the event before it took place.
The Guardian describes it as a “significant email”, The Times say it is a “critical email” and the reports claim a senior official warned Number 10 aide Martin Reynolds it broke lockdown rules.
It is reported that the email urged Mr Reynolds, who invited 100 Downing Street staff to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden and said “bring your own booze”, to cancel the event.
PM employed delay tactic but Gray’s report could leave PM in an untenable position
Since the 20 May 2020 event was first highlighted, the PM has urged his political opponents and his Tory critics to wait for Ms Gray’s report.
The senior civil servant, 64, who famously took a career break to run a pub in “bandit country” in Northern Ireland, has interviewed dozens of Number 10 staffers as well as Mr Cummings and MPs believe publication is now only days away.
Publication of details of the warning email in Ms Gray’s report would leave Mr Johnson in deep trouble over his claims that the 20 May gathering – which he says he attended for 25 minutes – was a “work event” and nobody told him it was against COVID-19 regulations.
The PM and his supporters, however, are likely to argue in his defence that while Mr Reynolds was urged to cancel the party the report may conclude that the concerns were not raised with Mr Johnson.