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Tory MP: UK government uses ‘blackmail’ to keep scandal-hit PM in power

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson hosts a virtual press conference to update the nation on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the Downing Street briefing room in central London on January 4, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

A senior Conservative lawmaker in the British parliament says the UK government is using “blackmail” to keep scandal-plagued Prime Minister Boris Johnson in power.

William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee which oversees constitutional issues and standards, said Thursday that the government is trying to “blackmail” lawmakers suspected of planning to unseat Johnson.

Wragg’s allegation landed yet another blow to shaky standing of Johnson, who won a large majority in 2019 but is currently facing increasing calls to resign over a series of scandals, including admitting that he and more than 100 members of his staff threw a party at his Downing Street office during the first pandemic wave in May 2020, when Britain was under a strict COVID-19 lockdown.

The government is also under fire over new revelations of partying, including two events late into the night at No 10 on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last April, when such gatherings were forbidden due to the pandemic.

“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 confidence in the party leadership of the prime minister,” Wragg said in a statement before a meeting of the committee.

“The intimidation of a member of parliament is a serious matter. 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,” he added.

However, a confidence vote does not seem to be looming in the horizon as several Conservative lawmakers say they will hold off from calling for one until a probe into the lockdown-breaking parties had been completed.

Johnson, in defense, says he attended what he thought was a work event on May 20, 2020, claiming that nobody had told him the gathering was against COVID restrictions.

On Thursday, Wragg stressed that it is not the function of the UK government to “breach the ministerial code in threatening to withdraw investments from members of parliament's constituencies which are funded from the public purse.”

Unfavorable opinion about Jonson rises 

Pollster Ipsos Mori also said six in 10 people in the UK currently have an unfavorable opinion of scandal-hit Johnson following revelations of the parties.

According to the poll, 57 percent of British people believe that Johnson is a bad premier, up 6 percentage points since last week.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has launched an investigation into the parties held by Johnson and his government staff during the coronavirus restrictions, and is due to report her findings by the end of the month.

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