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London politics latest news: Tory whips threatened to cut school funding, claims Labour defector

·23-min read
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Tory defector Christian Wakeford has claimed that funding for a school in his constituency would be cut if he voted against the Government.

The MP for Bury South, who dramatically crossed the Commons floor to join Labour on Wednesday, said whips threatened to withdraw funds if “he did not vote in a particular way”.

It came hours after senior Conservative MP William Wragg made the explosive claim that Tory critics of the prime minister faced “intimidation” and blackmail as part of an effort to keep him in office. Boris Johnson insisted he had seen no evidence to support the allegations.

Mr Wragg said the conduct of the Government Whips’ Office threatening to withdraw public funding from MPs’ constituencies may have breached the ministerial code.

Quizzed on the claims, Mr Wakeford told the BBC: "I was threatened that I would not get the school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way.

"This is a town that’s not had a high school for the best part of 10 years.

"How would you feel when holding back regeneration of a town for a vote? It didn’t sit comfortably and that was really starting to question my place where I was and ultimately to where I am now."

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it could be a contempt of Parliament to obstruct MPs in their work, adding that MPs and their staff are “not above the criminal law”.

“While the whipping system is long-established, it is of course a contempt to obstruct members in the discharge of their duty or to attempt to intimidate a member in their parliamentary conduct by threats,” he said.

21:33 , Matt Watts

That ends our politics live coverage for today. Please check in again tomorrow for the latest news.

MP: ‘We need to clean up the Conservative Party. And I’m not going to do that if I leave the Conservative Party’

18:22 , Matt Watts

Tory backbencher Andrew Bridgen, who has publicly called for Boris Johnson to go, indicated he would not "abandon" the Conservative Party.

Mr Bridgen expressed concern over the alleged conduct of Mr Johnson's supporters towards Tory critics.

But asked why he keeps the whip, he told BBC Radio 4's PM programme: "The Conservative club is my club, it's not their club.

"If anyone deserves to be out of the club, it's the people who are doing things such as lying at the despatch box, misleading Parliament... we need to clean up the Conservative Party. And I'm not going to do that if I leave the Conservative Party.

"Why would I abandon my party because people I don't agree with have currently got control of it?"

Dorries: Claims of intimidation against Tory MPs are ‘nonsense’

17:20 , Matt Watts

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries has dismissed as “nonsense” claims by William Wragg of a No 10 campaign of intimidation against Tory MPs seeking to oust Boris Johnson.

Ms Dorries told BBC News: “That is nonsense because that is not how government works. The whips have no say over what happens in individual constituencies.

“It is just attention-seeking behaviour from William Wragg who has been a constant critic of the Prime Minister, who delivered us the greatest majority since Margaret Thatcher.”

Minister: It would ‘absolutely be wrong’ for Government whips to threaten to withdraw constituency funding to save PM

16:44 , Matt Watts

Treasury Chief Secretary Simon Clarke has said it would “absolutely be wrong” for Government whips to threaten to withdraw constituency funding if MPs did not support the Prime Minister.

Mr Clarke told Times Radio he had not “seen any evidence of” blackmail or intimidation by the whips, but said: “Anyone with any substantive evidence to substantiate that kind of allegation should go to the relevant authorities.

“It would absolutely be wrong and, look, the reality is that my experience as a minister is, of course, that that is not a tactic that I’ve ever seen or heard of being deployed and the wider reality, of course, is that we also have a civil service, we have our officials who are, of course, precisely in place to make sure that in all funding allocations there is due process and proper rigour.”

On the wider whipping system he said there was “obviously a legitimate difference between trying to persuade people to support key policy and doing something which obviously would involve misuse of public funds in that way”.

On specific allegations made by former Tory MP Christian Wakeford, he said: “It’s either something he can substantiate, or it isn’t. I think that’s the point. And I simply need to see any evidence that that has in fact occurred. I think we have to accept objectively here that Mr Wakeford is not entirely a neutral source on these matters, having made the decision that he has.”

Steve Baker: I won’t rally against PM as ‘my heart wouldn’t be in it'

15:28 , Daniel Keane

Top Brexiteer and influential Tory Steve Baker has said he will not organise moves against Boris Johnson as his “heart would not be in it”, writes Nicholas Cecil.

Speaking to the BBC’s Nick Robinson on his podcast Political Thinking, Mr Baker said the partygate allegations could leave the prime minister in “checkmate” - but denied that he would use his influence to oust Mr Johnson.

However, he added: “I’m very clear that if he has broken the law or lied at the Despatch Box then he must go and so I would then act myself to that end.

“But I would just say, as I’ve said before, I would much prefer that Boris Johnson was a roaring success.

“But that’s not where we currently are.”

Read our full story here.

PM warns of ‘disaster’ if Russia invades Ukraine

15:08 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson has warned that Russia faces “disaster” if President Vladimir Putin makes any sort of incursion into Ukraine.

Speaking during a visit to a diagnostics centre in Taunton, the Prime Minister reiterated the UK’s support for Ukrainian sovereignty.

“If Russia were to make any kind of incursion into Ukraine on any scale whatever I think that would be a disaster for not just for Russia, it would be a disaster for the world,” he said.

“The UK stands squarely behind the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine.”

Rachel Reeves: It is 'totally unacceptable' if MPs are being blackmailed

14:53 , Daniel Keane

Train usage up 10% as WFH order ends

14:40 , Daniel Keane

Network Rail figures show the number of people using its stations between 6am and 10.30am today was up 10 per cent compared with the same period last week.

It comes as Downing Street announced an immediate change to the working from home order, with Britons now encouraged to go back to the office.

This was an increase from 275,000 people to 303,000 people.

The rise compared with Wednesday was just 1 per cent.

The statistics show that daily passenger numbers were increasing even before the guidance to work from home was lifted.

Sturgeon urges independent inquiry into blackmail claims

14:21 , Matt Watts

Scotland’s First Minister has said an independent inquiry should be launched into allegations that Tory MPs calling for the Prime Minister to quit have faced blackmail and intimidation.

William Wragg, chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he has received reports of conduct amounting to “blackmail”.

He said they include “members of staff at 10 Downing Street, special advisers, Government ministers and others encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those they who suspect of lacking confidence in the Prime Minister”.

Asked about the claims, Nicola Sturgeon told ITV Border: “These are gravely serious allegations - intimidation, blackmail and using public money to do it.

“I would suggest that these accusations need to be fully and, crucially, independently investigated.

“With everyday right now, Boris Johnson is tarnishing the office of Prime Minister and I think if he has concerns for the interests of the country, he will go.”

‘Big mistake to attack BBC’, warns Blair

13:59 , Daniel Keane

Tony Blair has warned the Government it is making a “big mistake” by threatening to abolish the licence fee and cut funding for the BBC.

The former prime minister told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme that the corporation was “a great institution”.

He said: “It’s an internationally renowned institution, it does the country a lot of good, a lot of people listen to it all around the world and I think it would be a big mistake if we jeopardise it.

“What that means for future funding… I’ll let other people who are more experienced in it than me determine.

“I don’t like the attacks on it, I don’t think their right and I don’t think they’re sensible for the future of the country.”

Watch: Boris denies allegations that whips have blackmailed rebel MPs

13:41 , Daniel Keane

Pressure mounts on Shaun Bailey

13:27 , Daniel Keane

Shaun Bailey’s resignation from the London Assembly must be “an inevitability” following his role in the partygate scandal, Sadiq Khan has said.

The Conservative Assembly Member, who stood against Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral election last May, has already stepped down from his roles as chair of two key Assembly committees following revelations he attended a party at Conservative HQ during lockdown in December 2020.

But speaking at the first meeting at the new City Hall building in Newham on Thursday, Sadiq Khan said that “Londoners deserve better representatives than that” and called on Mr Bailey to resign.

Mr Bailey, who on Thursday attended his first London Assembly meeting since December 15, did not offer any response to the Mayor of London’s comments.

There is now growing pressure from within the London Assembly for Mr Bailey to step down, with Green Party Assembly Member Caroline Russell also calling for him to hold himself to account.

My colleague Joe Talora has the full story here.

‘It’s checkmate for PM’, says Steve Baker

13:01 , Daniel Keane

Conservative MP Steve Baker has said it looks like “checkmate” for Boris Johnson over the “appalling” allegations of rule-breaking parties in No 10.

He told the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast: “It’s a sorry situation we’re in. I’m appalled we’ve reached this position.

“We didn’t make Boris Johnson Prime Minister for his meticulous grasp of tedious rules but this is appalling and the public are rightly furious.

“At the moment I’m afraid it does look like checkmate but whether he can save himself, we’ll see.”

No 10: Up to Sue Gray to decide if she will expand probe into PM’s Chequers commute

12:19 , Elly Blake

Downing Street said it was a matter for Sue Gray whether to expand her investigation to cover the Prime Minister’s decision to commute between Chequers and No 10 during March 2020.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The terms of reference already allow for the investigation team to consider matters they deem are relevant or worthy of further examination.”

Downing Street has repeatedly said the decision to go to Chequers in the early days of the pandemic was because it was safer for Mr Johnson’s pregnant then-fiancee Carrie Symonds.

She was “acting in line with clinical advice to reduce contact, given the nature of Downing Street and how it operates”.

“The Prime Minister was commuting to work to lead the coronavirus response.”

No 10 ‘not aware’ of plans for inquiry into blackmail allegations

12:03 , Elly Blake

Following a call from Labour for an investigation into the allegation levelled by Conservative MP William Wragg, the PM’s official spokesman was asked if there are plans to open an inquiry.

“Certainly not that I’m aware of,” the spokesman replied.

“I believe the comment made from my political colleagues was we’re not aware of any evidence to support those serious allegations.”

Asked about the Lib Dems’ allegation Mr Johnson is acting like a “mafia boss”, the spokesman replied: “We’ve been clear again that there is no evidence to support the claims put forward, but this is a matter for the whips office and not one for me to comment on.”

Pressed if Mr Johnson condemns all forms of bullying and harassment, he said: “Yes.”

London business leaders call for support

11:56 , Daniel Keane

London’s business and political leaders have called for an unprecedented package of measures to help “supercharge” the capital’s bounceback from the worst disruption it has suffered in peacetime, write Jonathan Prynn and David Bond.

The demands came after Boris Johnson on Wednesday lifted the advice to work from home seven days earlier than expected because of falling Covid case numbers. Other Plan B restrictions will end next week.

The move was welcomed with relief after a painful six-week “lockdown lite” that emptied the streets of the West End and City once again and cost central London’s economy an estimated £500 million in lost trade.

Writing in the Standard on Thursday, Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director of public health, said we could now “look forward to life without restrictions and the London we love bouncing back” while still bearing in mind the virus has not gone away.

Read our full report here.

Shadow Commons leader welcomes Wakeford to Labour

11:45 , Daniel Keane

Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire welcomed Bury South MP Christian Wakeford to the Labour Party - and urged her opposite number Jacob Rees-Mogg to cross the floor as well.

She said: “I know that the Leader of the House has demonstrated on several occasions his socialist tendencies, so I do remind him that he is also more than welcome any time he wishes to come over to this side and join the member for Bury South.”

Tory MP claims allegations of blackmail are ‘nonsense'

11:35 , Daniel Keane

Tory MP Michael Fabricant, who has expressed loyalty to the prime minister in recent weeks, has dismissed allegations that whips threatened MPs with funding cuts “nonsense”.

He tweeted: “If I reported every time I had been threatened by a Whip or if a Whip reported every time I had threatened them, the police wouldn’t have any time to conduct any other police work! What nonsense from WW.”

Commons speaker hits out at blackmail allegations

11:22 , Daniel Keane

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it would be a “contempt” to obstruct MPs in doing their duties by trying to “intimidate” them.

Sir Lindsay told MPs: “Those who work for them (MPs) are not above the criminal law.

“The investigation of allegedly criminal conduct is a matter for the police and decisions about prosecution are for the CPS. It will be wrong of me to interfere with such matters.

“While the whipping system is long-established, it is of course a contempt to obstruct members in the discharge of their duty or to attempt to intimidate a member in their parliamentary conduct by threats.”

No10 denies allegations of blackmail

11:12 , Daniel Keane

Downing Street has categorically denied allegations from Tory MP William Wragg that MPs have been threatened with funding cuts for their constituencies should they call for Boris Johnson’s resignation.

A No 10 spokesman said: “We are not aware of any evidence to support what are clearly serious allegations.

“If there is any evidence to support these claims we would look at it very carefully.”

Rayner responds to Wragg’s claims

10:56 , Daniel Keane

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said the Tory party “continues to descend further into chaos of its own making”.

Responding to William Wragg’s claims, she said: “These are grave and shocking accusations of bullying, blackmail and misuse of public money, and must be investigated thoroughly.

“The idea that areas of our country will be starved of funding because their MPs don’t fall into line to prop up this failing Prime Minister is disgusting.”

Reynolds ‘was told May 2020 party broke the rules’ by senior civil servant

10:44 , Daniel Keane

Sue Gray has uncovered an email sent from a senior official to the prime minister’s private secretary Martin Reynolds warning him the May 20 party would break the rules, according to a report.

A Downing Street source told ITV’s Robert Peston that the email was copied in to Mr Reynold’s office and the PM’s then aide Dominic Cummings.

Mr Peston writes: “She has also told the sender of the dynamite email she would like to speak with him but has not yet.”

More on this to follow.

Breaking: Senior Tory claims No10 is ‘trying to blackmail’ rebels

10:24 , Daniel Keane

The Tory civil war over “Partygate” has exploded with a senior MP suggesting the Government is trying to “blackmail” rebels into supporting Boris Johnson, writes Nicholas Cecil and David Bond.

William Wragg, the chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, claimed MPs were being threatened with having funding for their constituencies withdrawn if they called for the Prime Minister to quit.

He urged MPs to report any attempt to “blackmail” them over their support for a no confidence motion against Mr Johnson to the Metropolitan Police.

Speaking at the start of a committee hearing with Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay, Mr Wragg said: “In recent days a number of members of parliament have faced pressures and intimidation from members of the Government because of their declared or assumed desire for a vote of no confidence in the party leadership of the Prime Minister.

“It is of course the duty of the Government’s whips office to secure the Government’s business in the House of Commons.

“However it is not their function to breach the Ministerial Code and threatening to withdraw investments from Members of Parliament’s constituencies which are funded from the public purse.”

Ambulance handover delays see improvement on last week

10:04 , Daniel Keane

Ambulance handover delays at hospitals in England improved slightly last week, new figures published by NHS England show.

A total of 14,961 delays of at least 30 minutes were recorded across all hospital trusts in the seven days to January 16, representing 18 per cent of all arrivals.

This is down from 23 per cent in the previous week, which was the highest level so far this winter.

Some 7 per cent of arrivals last week (5,610) took more than 60 minutes to be handed over to A&E teams, down from 10 per cent in the previous week.

Watch: Sajid Javid on Sue Gray inquiry on Downing Street parties

09:48 , Daniel Keane

Javid: Let us live with Covid like flu

09:33 , Daniel Keane

Sajid Javid has also been speaking about Covid on his morning media, stressing he wants to see the country live with the virus like flu.

His comments come after ministers announced all Plan B restrictions brought in to stem the spread of Omicron would be shelved.

The health secretary told Sky: “Sadly people die of flu as well. In a bad flu year you can sadly lose about 20,000 lives.

“But we don’t shut down our entire country and put in lots of restrictions to deal with it.

“We need to continue with our lives with sensible, appropriate and proportionate measures. The one thing we’ve learned about flu is that we have annual vaccinations for older people in particular, for children as well.

“We may have some kind of annual vaccination, that’s where we’ll probably end up but it’s very difficult for anyone to say.”

Javid admits some gatherings did take place

09:16 , Daniel Keane

A cabinet minister has admitted that parties did take place in Downing Street but defended Boris Johnson ahead of a report into the furore by a senior civil servant, write Nicholas Cecil and David Bond.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid also appealed for people to wait for the report by Sue Gray, expected next week, before making judgements, stressing it would be “absolutely crucial” in revealing what happened in No10.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We do now know there were some parties.

“We know that because some of the people that were involved and broke the rules have come forward to say so.”

However, he also defended Mr Johnson who has apologised for the May 20, 2020, “bring-your-own-booze” gathering in the garden of No10 when Britain was lockdown, telling the Commons that he thought this was a work event.

Mr Javid said: “The Prime Minister, he has said himself he has taken already full responsibility for anything that’s happened in Downing Street and he will come to Parliament once the report is published and answer any question that is put to him and that is the right way forward.”

Partygate has ‘damaged’ British democracy, says Javid

08:53 , Daniel Keane

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the revelations on partygate were “damaging” to British democracy.

“If there were people at the heart of government who were not following the rules, absolutely they should be disciplined and I look forward to seeing that disciplinary action taking place,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We do now know there were some parties. We know that because some of the people that were involved and broke the rules have come forward to say so.

“Of course things like this damage our democracy. From what we already know from the people who have come forward and apologised for the parties that took place, for example the one on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, that was completely wrong.

“It was wrong in every single way. That is already damaging, of course it is.”

Javid: I will continue to wear a mask while shopping

08:29 , Daniel Keane

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has said he will continue to wear a face mask going shopping when Plan B Covid restrictions lift in England.

Mr Javid said people would have to make their own “personal judgment” about what precautions to take as legal requirements come to an end.

“Will I be wearing a face mask? Yeah, I think I probably would be in a week’s time,” he told BBC Breakfast.

“Because prevalence is still high and there will be people there, especially if I am going to my local shop which is small and enclosed and can have quite a few people in there at one time in quite a small space, I don’t know most of those people, I think that would be sensible.

“I think it will be sensible on the tube in London, for example - quite an enclosed space.”

Boris Johnson ‘safe in his job’, claims Javid

08:05 , Daniel Keane

The mood in the Tory camp seems noticeably more upbeat than yesterday morning, with another cabinet minister rallying behind the PM.

Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said Boris Johnson is “safe” in his job.

He told BBC Breakfast: “At the same time, people are right to be angered and pained about what they have seen and they have heard. I share that anger and pain.

“I think it is right that there is a proper investigation going on that will establish the facts and that the Prime Minister will come back to Parliament and properly respond.”

Wakeford defection has ‘calmed Tory nerves’, claims MP

07:58 , Daniel Keane

A Tory MP has claimed that Christian Wakeford’s defection as “calmed nerves” in the Conservative party.

It follows reports that many rebel MPs are withholding letters of no confidence from 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady following Mr Wakeford’s defection.

Andrew Percy, Brigg and Goole MP, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “It’s kind of made people a bit more relaxed, it’s calmed nerves.

“I think people have recognised that actually this constant navel gazing and internal debating is only to the advantage of our political opponents.

“The Prime Minister is probably thanking Christian for what he did because it’s made a lot of people think again, think twice.”

Javid says Davis’ attack on Johnson ‘damaging'

07:40 , Daniel Keane

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has admitted that David Davis’s attack on Boris Johnson in the House of Commons yesterday was “damaging”, writes David Bond.

The Tory grandee and former Brexit Secretary told the Prime Minister “in the name of God go” in a dramatic intervention during PMQs yesterday.

In an interview on Sky News this morning Mr Javid said: “It is damaging, of course it is, if you said to me would I rather he didn’t get up, an elder statesman didn’t get up and say something like that, of course I wouldn’t.

“That’s a decision he’s made.”

The Cabinet Minister added that Mr Johnson had his complete support.

Labour is now a ‘pro-business party’, says shadow Chancellor

07:32 , Daniel Keane

Labour has left behind its far-left days under Jeremy Corbyn and now has a “totally different mentality” towards business and the economy, the shadow chancellor has declared.

Rachel Reeves vowed a Labour government led by Sir Keir Starmer would be profoundly “pro-business” and committed to fiscal discipline.

She told the Financial Times: “It doesn’t sound totally preposterous that Labour could be in government some time quite soon.”

However, Ms Reeves acknowledged Sir Keir’s Labour had a great deal of work to do to regain voters’ trust after a humiliating defeat in the 2019 election.

She said: “Labour is a pro-worker party but we’re a pro-business party too, and very proudly so.”

Recap: This week in Westminster

07:17 , Daniel Keane

Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live politics coverage.

We’ll have all the latest news following a dramatic day in Westminster yesterday. Here is a quick rundown of what happened:

- Former Conservative MP for Bury South Christian Wakeford crossed the floor to join the Labour party, citing Boris Johnson’s “disgraceful” behaviour during the partygate scandal as a reason for leaving

- Senior Tory and former cabinet minister David Davis called on the prime minister to resign, telling him: “In the name of God, go!” He was referencing Leo Amery’s speech to then PM Neville Chamberlain in the Commons in 1940.

- Mr Wakeford’s defection was opposed by swathes of the Labour party, with both Momentum and Young Labour pointing out his voting record in office and criticism of left wing policies

- Mr Johnson’s press secretary said he would have further meetings with MPs as he attempted to shore up support on his back benches. Rebel MPs are not currently thought to be close to meeting the threshold of 54 letters

- All Plan B coronavirus restrictions were lifted in England, with work from home guidance scrapped immediately and vaccine certification shelved from next week. Mr Johnson suggested the mandatory self-isolation requirement after a positive test could soon be axed

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