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Housing Secretary Michael Gove stood up at the despatch box to update the House of Commons on the Government’s levelling-up fund yesterday. During his update to MPs, the Brexit-backing Cabinet Minister also responded to the SNP’s communities spokesperson about allegations of blackmail, which have been levied against Boris Johnson and his whips.
Patricia Gibson, the MP for North Ayrshire & Arran, asked the Scottish-born Tory, said: “Will he therefore comment on the veracity of the specific remarks made by the honourable member for Hazel Grove (William Wragg) about threats made to Tory MPs to withdraw investment from their constituencies and release negative press stories as punishment for supporting a no-confidence vote in the Prime Minister?
“Will he outline what investigations he intends to undertake to look into the abuse, or possible abuse, of levelling-up funds?”
Mr Gove, who campaigned with Mr Johnson on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, responded by saying: “There is no evidence of any abuse of levelling-up funding.
“If anyone has it, I hope that they will bring it to the House’s attention.
The Surrey Heath MP added: “As for any suggestion that someone may be on the receiving end of lots of negative press stories for voting against the Government, as someone who is solid, 100 percent, totally behind the Prime Minister and yet also on the receiving end of a plethora of negative press stories, I can tell the honourable member that there is no correlation between the two.”
The comments come after Mr Wragg, who has called on Mr Johnson to resign as Conservative leader, claimed Tory rebels had faced “pressures and intimidation” from the Government.
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Ex-Tory MP Christian Wakeford, who defected to Labour last Wednesday, appeared to corroborate the claims.
The Bury South MP even alleged he was told he would put at risk the creation of a school in an area of his constituency if he rebelled on a previous bill.
Mr Wakeford said: “This is a town that’s not had a high school for the best part of 10 years and how would you feel with holding back the regeneration of a town for a vote?”
Downing Street rejected the claims and 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.”
Mr Johnson added: “I see no evidence, heard no evidence to support any of those allegations.
“And what I’m focused on is what we are doing to deal with the number one priority of the British people, which is coming through Covid.”
The Prime Minister then championed the UK’s vaccine programme and pointed out how Britain was now the most open economy and society in Europe.
Other Tory MPs, including those who have rebelled against the Government in the past, have also challenged allegations of blackmail from the whips.
Thanet South MP Craig Mackinlay posted on social media to confirm his £19.8million levelling-up fund bid came in despite the ex-UKIP treasurer being “particularly rebellious over the past year”.
Anthony Mangnall, who represents voters in Totnes & South Devon, responded to Mr Wakeford’s claims by tweeting: “Didn’t he receive £20m from the Levelling Up Fund after he had voted against the Government on numerous occasions?”
The Bury South MP welcomed the investment back in October when he said on social media: “£20million secured for Radcliffe Town Centre Regeneration delivering: A new library, swimming pool, leisure facilities, community areas, space for start-up business to grow.”
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However, Mr Wakeford said in his defection letter: “I care passionately about the people of Bury South and I have concluded that the policies of the Conservative Government led by Boris Johnson are doing nothing to help the people of the constituency and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.”
Workington MP Mark Jenkinson also posted on social media to set out his thoughts on the allegations made against the whips.
He said: “I have not been the most loyal of backbenchers at times, and have been through what the whips would deem to be the ‘wrong lobby’ a number of times, particularly on Covid restrictions.
“I have never hidden my intentions to do so from the whips, and so have had many ‘conversations’ – often fraught, sometimes impolite! (on my part).
“I can categorically state that none of those conversations have ever involved threats, implicit or explicit, towards me or my constituency regarding funding, releasing stories or anything of that ilk.”
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