Boris Johnson to 'purge' whips office in bid to cling onto power, sources say

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Boris Johnson to 'purge' whips office in bid to cling onto power, sources say
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Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris JohnsonChristopher Furlong/Getty Images
  • Johnson expected to make changes to his whips office — MPs who enforce discipline — sources said.

  • MPs described an erratic operation that harmed relations between Downing Street and backbenchers.

  • One former minister described the expected changes as "the last few breaths... being gasped."

Boris Johnson is expected to "purge" his whips office as part of last-ditch efforts to reset his relationship with his MPs and save his career, sources told Insider.

Whips are the MPs tasked by party leaders to manage discipline within the ranks of MPs, and make sure they support the aims of the party.

Mark Spencer, the chief whip, has been facing calls to quit since attempt save Owen Paterson from a suspension over breaching lobbying rules.

Spencer now "thinks he's very much on his way out", a senior Tory MP told Insider. The source, and others in this article, spoke on condition of anonymity to frankly discuss the turmoil within the Conservative Party.

Christopher Pincher, currently a housing minister, is one of the names in the frame to take over. Jake Berry, a former minister and one-time ally of Johnson, has also been linked with the job.

MPs have long complained about their relationship with the whips office under Spencer, which has become increasingly erratic in recent months, widening the rift between Downing Street and backbenchers.

A lack of engagement with MPs left the government "blindsided" in June by an attempt by rebel Tory MPs to reverse cuts to the UK international aid budget.

Backbencher complaints were ignored on controversial issues such as the provision of free meals in schools and rules meant to regulate the release of sewage into the water system, several sources claimed.

One former minister said the only interaction between whips and many MPs was a weekly text message asking "will you support the government on all divisions in next week's business Y/N".

Another former minister said: "We thought they had learned over free school meals and the rivers, but it's just so shambolic. You have to ask yourself why."

A "purge" was due sooner rather than later, another backbencher told Insider. The MP said the existing "ineffective" operation had become "far too complacent",

Pincher – who was seen "texting [Johnson aide] Ben Gascoigne about who could be relied on to go on media" this week – was a deputy chief whip under Johnson's predecessor Theresa May.

He is a "no nonsense character" who would restore discipline, said one MP.

Following this week's drama, one added: "Mark's lost control."

The planned shake-up pre-dates explosive claims by the senior backbencher William Wragg, who said that MPs had faced "pressures and intimidation" over the prospect of a no-confidence vote in Johnson, according to Insider sources.

Wragg, who is vice-chairman of the 1922 executive, claimed that whips had threatened to "withdraw investments" in MPs' constituencies, a move which "would seem to constitute blackmail".

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary and one of Johnson's most vocal allies, branded this "attention-seeking behavior" and argued that "the whips have no say" over government spending.

Christian Wakeford, the Bury South MP who defected to Labour on Wednesday, later said that he had indeed been "threatened" with the withdrawal of funding.

Several MPs corroborated his claims, saying that whips had gone into overdrive to protect the Prime Minister.

Tactics included telling newer MPs that their names would be made public if they send in letters of no confidence, even though the process is secret. Others, sources said, were warned ominously of incriminating pictures of them at gatherings on the parliamentary estate while socializing was still banned.

One former minister told Insider the whips were "bullying" and "vicious," threatening MPs who criticize Johnson with funding cuts or the prospect of being replaced as the Tory candidate for their seat come the next election.

Others, the former minister said, were threatened with the prospect of negative stories about them being passed to newspapers.

A Downing Street spokesperson told Insider that Spencer was "doing a brilliant job", and said that Johnson had full confidence in him.

Some Tories Insider spoke to were doubtful that changes to the whips office would be sufficient to save Johnson.

Another plan being discussed, an anticipated cull of officials implicated in a forthcoming official report into lockdown-breaking parties, was also treated with derision.

One senior Tory said: "It's rearranging deck chairs - the ship's sinking."

Another said this was the administration's "death knock", adding: "The last few breaths are being gasped."

Read the original article on Business Insider