The Pork Pie plotters working to oust Boris Johnson are considering publishing messages they received from party whips which they believe will prove the Tory leadership attempted to blackmail and intimidate them into submission.
The Tory rebels, who met secretly this week to plot the PM’s political demise, were branded ‘attention-seeking schoolchildren’ by cabinet ministers after they failed – at least so far – to gather enough letters of no confidence to trigger a vote on the future of Mr Johnson’s premiership.
But since the gathering, dubbed the Pork Pie Putsch – as it took place in the office of Alice Kearns MP for Melton Mowbray, aka home of the pork pie – the group claim they have been the victims of political threats.
Party whips are accused of threatening to withdraw funding from their constituencies, while government aides allegedly smeared them by releasing unsubstantiated claims about their drinking habits and personal lives in the press. The claims have been denied by No 10.
According to the Times, the rebels met on Thursday to discuss their next move.
‘They were comparing notes and discussing whether or not to make public texts and other evidence they have from the whips,’ a source close to the group said.
The blackmail claims were supported by Tory defector Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South who sensationally crossed the aisle to Labour yesterday
‘One member has recorded a heated conversation that they had with the chief whip.’
The material could be released to the press or the public in a move that could humiliate the PM after he denied that any of the rebels had been ‘blackmailed’ into supporting him.
One rebel told the Telegraph: ‘We want the Chief Whip’s head on a spike.’
However, a source involved in the whipping operation told the same paper that claims of threats and blackmail were ‘complete bull****’.
The source added: ‘Ask them for a single shred of evidence.’
It comes after the rebels were urged to report the blackmail claims to the authorities by William Wragg, chairman of the public administration committee and one of seven Tory MPs who submitted a letter of no confidence in the PM.
‘The intimidation of an MP is a serious matter,’ he said Thursday.
‘Moreover the reports of which I’m aware would seem to constitute blackmail.
‘As such it would be my general advice to colleagues to report these matters to the Speaker of the House of Commons and the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.’
Recalling a heated moment with a party whip after voting against the Government last year, another rebel alleged: ‘They pulled me over and I told them I was voting against them.
The material could be released to the press or the public in a move that could humiliate the PM after he denied that any of the rebels had been ‘blackmailed’ into supporting him
‘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.’
The blackmail claims were supported by Tory defector Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South who sensationally crossed the aisle to Labour yesterday.
He told BBC North West that when he previously planned to vote against the Government, he was told a new high school would not be built in his constituency.
‘I was threatened that I would not get the school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way,’ he said.
‘This is a town that’s not had a high school for the best part of ten years. How would you feel when holding back regeneration of a town for a vote? It didn’t sit comfortably.’
It comes as it was revealed Boris Johnson will hold a series of intensive meetings with Tory MPs this weekend in an attempt to head off the threat of a leadership challenge.
Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had torn up his diary to talk with wobbling MPs ahead of the expected publication next week of the official inquiry into the ‘Partygate’ row by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray.
Some MPs will be seen one to one while others will be asked to discuss their concerns with the PM in small groups.
Sources believe similar meetings earlier this week helped to defuse the threat of the ‘Pork Pie Plot’ coup by Red Wall MPs.
Mr Johnson will urge MPs to ‘look at the bigger picture’, most notably the success of his strategy for dealing with the emergence of the Omicron strain, which is seeing the UK emerge from Covid restrictions faster than other European countries.
But one senior Tory said the earlier sessions were not a complete success, with the PM unwilling to guarantee no more damaging revelations will come out.
Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had torn up his diary to talk with wobbling MPs ahead of the expected publication next week of the official inquiry into the ‘Partygate’ row by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray (Pictured: The PM at PMQs on Wednesday)
The source said Mr Johnson had pleaded with Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, to retract a letter of no confidence sent to Tory shop steward Sir Graham Brady, only for Mr Anderson to refuse.
The source added that the PM became ‘very emotional’ during the meeting – a version of events denied by No 10.
Mr Anderson, a former Labour councillor, declined to say yesterday whether he had submitted a letter or turned down a request from the PM.
But another Tory MP said reports claiming rebels were withdrawing their letters were ‘bull****’.
Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison, identified by Tory whips as a ringleader of the Pork Pie Plot, denied this yesterday – but did not voice support for Mr Johnson.
She told the Northern Echo newspaper: ‘I am incredibly angry about the Downing Street parties and the Prime Minister’s response.
‘It will be for the Prime Minister himself, or the Conservative Party collectively, to decide the Prime Minister’s future.
‘Of course, I have had a number of conversations with colleagues about this, as is the case with every political development, be it policy-based or otherwise, but to suggest I’m leading a coup is bonkers.’
Mr Johnson refused to comment on the plotting against him yesterday during a brief question and answer session with journalists while on a visit to a health centre in Taunton, Somerset.
The official inquiry into Partygate, led by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray (pictured) is expected to be published next week
He said his ‘No 1 priority’ was ‘looking at the state of our country as we come out of Covid’, adding: ‘We hope that we’re now on a route map back to complete normality.’
Mr Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings claimed yesterday that Miss Gray was already uncovering emails showing he was telling the truth about the parties and No 10 was ‘lying’.
But Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged MPs and the public to wait for the publication of the report.
He said people were ‘right to be angry’ over the allegations of lockdown-busting events at No 10, but added that he believed the PM was safe in his job.
However, Brexiteer Steve Baker, who helped engineer Theresa May’s downfall, said the situation ‘does look like checkmate’ for Mr Johnson.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak, a frontrunner for Mr Johnson’s job should the PM be forced out, refused to be drawn on the subject during a visit to Stoke, insisting he and the Government were focused on delivering their ‘levelling-up’ agenda.