British minister says claims of lawmaker blackmail unlikely to be true

LONDON (Reuters) - British Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Friday that claims that lawmakers had been intimidated and blackmailed by representatives of the government seemed strange and were unlikely to be true.

A senior Conservative lawmaker accused the British government on Thursday of intimidating and attempting to "blackmail" those lawmakers they suspect of wanting to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson out of power.

William Wragg, chair of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said some lawmakers had faced intimidation and blackmail because of their desire to topple Johnson.

"I have been an MP for 12 years now and I have never heard of the kind of allegations that are being made - blackmail," Kwarteng told Sky. "I find it strange."

"I find it very unlikely that these allegations are true."

He said he had never heard that money could be withheld from communities on account of the behaviour of the lawmaker by the whips, who enforces party discipline.

"I find it strange because the whip's office doesn't actually have the power over spending in that way," he said.

Johnson, who in 2019 won his party's biggest majority in more than 30 years, is now fighting to shore up his authority after a series of revelations about parties in his Downing Street residence during COVID lockdowns.

Johnson has repeatedly apologised for the parties and said he was unaware of many of them.

However, he attended what he said he thought was a work event on May 20, 2020 to which staff had been told to "bring their own booze". Johnson said on Tuesday that nobody had told him the gathering was against COVID rules.

Leading rivals within the Conservative Party include Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, 41, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, 46.

Truss, on a visit to Australia, said she supported Johnson.

"The Prime Minister has my 100% support," said Truss. "I want the Prime Minister to continue as long as possible in his job. He is doing a fantastic job. There is no leadership election."

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Paul Sandle)