NAfter a dramatic day full of coup rumors, Boris Johnson faced a new allegation on Thursday. One of the inner-party rebels, William Wragg, complained in Parliament that like-minded people had been “intimidated” and “blackmailed”. To dissuade them from expressing their distrust in the prime minister, members of the government have threatened to withdraw public investment from their constituencies. This should be investigated by the police, recommended Wragg. Downing Street said it had no evidence of the allegation.
The accusation of extortion was received differently. Some Conservative MPs downplayed him, arguing that the Whips have traditionally used hardball to bring MPs into line with factions. If you reported every case to the police, they would soon no longer care about crimes, MP Michael Fabricant said. Other MPs, particularly those on the opposition benches, took the allegations seriously and called for an investigation. A Liberal Democrat spoke of “mafia methods”.
“For God’s sake, go.”
The allegations surfaced after Johnson appeared to have temporarily found his footing. In circles of his group it was said that several motions of no confidence had been withdrawn. At the same time, prominent Tories opposed a no-confidence vote, including former Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt, who had recently expressed interest in the post. Should there still be a vote, Johnson will “fight,” said a government spokesman.
The day before, the Prime Minister had been asked to resign several times in the House of Commons. A speech by former Brexit Minister David Davis caused a stir, at the end of which he suggested the end of Johnson with a historical quote: “In God’s name: go.” Shortly before that, Tory MP Christian Wakeford had switched to the Labor Party. He followed the debate from the opposition bench.
Paradoxically, this seemed to boost the morale of many Tories. “Wakeford’s defection has welded the party back together,” a minister was quoted as saying. Some commentators wrote that the rebellion had lost momentum. But at the same time, prominent Tories have been critical. “It looks like checkmate at the moment – we’ll see if he (Johnson) can save himself,” MP Steve Baker said.
The attention is now all the more focused on the investigative report on “Partygate”, which is to be presented soon. The focus is now on whether Johnson had been warned in the hours before a party in his official garden that violated the lockdown rules. ITV television reported on Thursday that investigator Sue Gray had discovered an email in which at least the host – Johnson’s personal secretary – had explicitly warned of a lockdown breach.
Johnson’s former adviser, Dominic Cummings, claimed to have personally approached the Prime Minister about the breach of the rules. However, his statements are suspected of being used as ammunition in a private war. Nevertheless, Gray is said to have spoken to Cummings. If Johnson could be shown to have known about the nature of the garden event, he would have misinformed Parliament, which would further increase the pressure to resign.