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‘Looks like checkmate’ for Boris Johnson, says senior Tory MP

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Senior Conservative MP Steve Baker has said it looked like “checkmate” for Boris Johnson, suggesting that the prime minister’s time at No 10 was coming to an end over the partygate scandal.

The influential Brexiteer, a leading figure in the Covid Research Group of Tory lockdown-sceptics, said the public were “furious” over the drinks party held at Downing Street at during lockdown.

“It’s a sorry situation that we’re in, I’m appalled that we’ve reached this position,” Mr Baker told Nick Robinson on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast.

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

Mr Baker added: “At the moment I’m afraid it does look like checkmate. Whether he can save himself we’ll see.”

The Brexit-backing MP – a key figure in moves to oust former PM Theresa May – said he would not be “organising” against Mr Johnson because his “heart wouldn’t be in it”.

It comes fellow MP William Wragg has claimed Tory backbenchers have reported “intimidation” and “blackmail” over their support for a no-confidence motion in Mr Johnson – urging colleagues to report it to the police.

Mr Wragg, chair Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said on Thursday that he has received reports of conduct amounting to “blackmail”.

He said they include members of No 10 staff, special advisers and others “encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those they who suspect of lacking confidence in the prime minister”.

Responding, Mr Johnson insisted he had not seen any evidence to support Mr Wragg’s claims of intimidatory tactics against his critics. “I’ve seen no evidence to support any of those allegations,” he told reporters on a visit to Taunton.

Christian Wakeford – the MP for Bury South who defected from the Tories to Labour on Wednesday – backed up Mr Wragg’s claims, saying he had been “threatened” with the loss of funding for a school in his constituency.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner added: “These are grave and shocking accusations of bullying, blackmail, and misuse of public money and must be investigated thoroughly.”

Camilla Cavendish, head of policy for David Cameron, called the allegations “unprecedented” – saying the Tory whips had moved into “mafia territory” if they proved to be true.

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

In remarkable scenes in the Commons on Wednesday, leading Brexiteer David David stunned MPs with a call to the prime minister to “in the name of God, go”.

While up to 20 discontented Tories were understood to have submitted letters to the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, none broke cover to declare their positions publicly.

Senior Tories told The Independent that the developments may have helped shore up Mr Johnson’s position at least until the publication of Whitehall mandarin Sue Gray’s report into “partygate” – now expected next week.

One member of the group of MPs who arrived in parliament in 2019 urged colleagues not to wait to submit their letters.

“You have to make a change as soon as you can,” the Tory MP told The Independent. “I don’t think colleagues should think of the Sue Gray report should be the answer, the silver bullet. You don’t need Sue Gray to tell you what a party is.”

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