The business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, has said allegations of blackmailing by government whips against Tory rebels need to be investigated but are unlikely to be true.
Speaking to Sky News, Kwarteng said: “Any form of blackmail and intimidation of that kind simply has no place in British politics.” He added: “We need to get to the bottom of the matter. I’d find it very unlikely that these allegations are true.”
On Thursday, William Wragg, the chair of the public administration committee, claimed there had been attempted blackmail involving threats to funding in the constituencies of his fellow Conservative MPs who backed a confidence vote in Boris Johnson’s leadership.
No 10 dismissed the allegations and said they would only be investigated if any evidence was presented.
Although Kwarteng was sceptical of the allegations, he suggested they should be investigated. He said: “I find it strange because the whip’s office doesn’t actually have the power over spending in that way. But obviously, we’re going to take the allegation seriously and we need to look [get] to the bottom of it.”
He added: “I’ve been an MP for 12 years now and I’ve never heard of the kind of allegations that have been made – blackmail, the idea that somehow money is being withheld from communities that need it on account of the behaviour of the MPs, I’ve never heard of anything like that.”
“It’s really important that whips get on with MPs – it’s a really important relationship. So I was very surprised to see the allegations. I haven’t seen any evidence to back them up. But obviously we have to look and see what’s actually gone on.
“I don’t want to get drawn into what will happen if unsubstantiated allegations [are] proven true. All I would like to say is that it’s completely unacceptable. And we need to get to the bottom of the matter.”
Christian Wakeford, the former Tory MP who defected to Labour on Wednesday, said the whips had threatened to withhold money for a school in his Bury South constituency when he was considering rebelling against the government.
Kwarteng told Sky: “He’s a Labour MP now, and of course, part of his job is to try and discredit the government.”
Asked later by BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about Wakeford’s allegation, Kwarteng said: “I’m sure it will be investigated if it’s not being so already … I think Christian Wakeford will be aware that the whips don’t have authority to spend money in local communities. I don’t think it is true.”
He added: “I think the claims have been unsubstantiated, as the prime minister said, he hadn’t seen any evidence. I haven’t seen any evidence of this. Any allegation of that seriousness should be looked into and would have consequences if it is found to be true.”
The claims over whipping tactics came as Johnson battled to remain in power before the outcome of an inquiry by the senior civil servant Sue Gray into allegations of rule-breaking partying at Downing Street during coronavirus restrictions.
The Times reported that rebels were considering releasing texts or recordings of their conversations with whips to show their tactics.