Gavin Williamson accused of threatening MP Christian Wakeford over school funding

UK

Gavin Williamson has been accused of threatening to withdraw funding for a school in Bury after a former Tory MP considered voting against the government.

Christian Wakeford, who recently defected to the Labour Party, had previously said that he was warned funding for a new secondary school in his constituency would be scrapped if he voted for a motion criticising the government over free school meals.

Initially, Mr Wakeford did not say who made the threat but speaking to The Sunday Times, he said it was the then Education Secretary.

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Defected MP says he was ‘threatened’ by whips

The vote took place in October 2020, when Manchester United and England footballer Marcus Rashford criticised MPs for voting against the extension of free meals during the school holidays.

Mr Wakeford opposed the motion but he chose to abstain from the Commons vote.

He said that Mr Williamson, a former chief whip, had pulled him out of the House of Commons dining room and told him: “It’s not very helpful to back an opposition (motion) against the department where you’re wanting an extremely large favour from said department, so do consider what you’re doing.

“I know the maxim is ‘once a whip, always a whip’, but yeah, that one was Gavin,” he added.

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In February 2021, the Department for Education approved a new school in Mr Wakeford’s seat, one of four in Greater Manchester.

Britain's former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson leaves a hotel to take part in the annual Conservative Party conference, in Manchester, Britain, October 5, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Noble
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Former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson says he doesn’t have any ‘recollection of the conversation’

In response, Mr Williamson said: “I don’t have any recollection of the conversation as described but what I do remember is working tirelessly with Christian and others in order to be able to deliver this school, which I did.

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“Such major investment decisions are made after close analysis of the benefits that the investment will bring and certainly not something that can be decided in a brief conversation like the one described.”

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Tories facing ‘blackmail’ should tell police

Intimidation allegations mount for government

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Wakeford has not ruled out submitting a testimony to Scotland Yard, who will be speaking to William Wragg MP next week.

Mr Wragg, a senior Tory MP, alleged that Downing Street has sought to blackmail colleagues trying to oust Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He accused the whips of “encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those that they suspect of lacking confidence in their prime minister” and the reports he has been told of “would seem to constitute blackmail”.

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PM denies rebel MPs ‘blackmailed’

Boris Johnson said last week there is “no evidence to support” the claims, but his whips have been accused of threatening to withdraw public funds from rebel MPs’ constituencies on many occasions before the “partygate” scandal.

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is chairman of the Commons Standards Committee, said alleged threats to pull public funding from members’ constituencies amounted to “misconduct in public office” and should be reported to the police.

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Chief Whip denies allegations

He also referred to claims that Boris Johnson himself had been directly involved.

Allegations MP was sacked because of her faith

On Sunday, the current chief whip, Mark Spencer, was forced to address allegations that Nusrat Ghani, a Muslim MP, was sacked as a minister because of her faith.

The 49-year-old MP for Wealden in East Sussex was removed as transport minister in February 2020 during a mini-reshuffle and she alleges that an unidentified whip told her that her “Muslimness was raised as an issue”.

She said she was also told that her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable” and that there were concerns “that I wasn’t loyal to the party as I didn’t do enough to defend the party against Islamophobia allegations”.

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Chief Whip Mark Spencer said in a statement: “To ensure other whips are not drawn into this matter, I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening.

“These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.”

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