Boris Johnson defensive as claims threaten to overshadow Tory conference

Boris Johnson has denied suggestions that allegations about his private life are overshadowing the Conservative Party conference.

Number 10 has dismissed an allegation from journalist Charlotte Edwardes – that Mr Johnson squeezed her thigh during a lunch 20 years ago – as “untrue”.

The alleged incident happened when the PM was editor of The Spectator magazine.

Charlotte Edwardes
Image: Charlotte Edwardes made the allegation in her Sunday Times column

Reacting to Downing Street’s denial, Ms Edwardes said: “If the prime minister doesn’t recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does.”

The story has dominated headlines as the Conservatives hold their annual conference.

It follows claims that former model Jennifer Arcuri received public money and was afforded privileged access to foreign trade missions while Mr Johnson was London mayor.

The PM has dismissed any wrongdoing over his links with Ms Arcuri.

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Asked if the allegations were taking the focus away from policy announcements in Manchester, he said: “Not at all.

Boris Johnson and Jennifer Arcuri. Pic: Vicki Couchman/Shutterstock
Image: The PM says he has ‘no interest to declare’ over his links with Jennifer Arcuri. Pic: Vicki Couchman/Shutterstock

“I think what the public wants to hear is what we are doing to bring the country together and get on with improving their lives.

“I think I would make one general comment.

“I think there are a lot of people who basically want to stop us delivering Brexit on October 31.

“But I have to tell you we are not going to be deterred from that ambition.

“We are going to get on and do it, we are going to get us over the line.

“I think that that is the best thing for the country because it’s been going on a long time now, this row over Brexit.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves The Midland hotel, near the Manchester Central convention complex in Manchester, northwest England on September 29, 2019, on the first day of the annual Conservative Party conference. - Embattled British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gathered his Conservative party Sunday for what could be its final conference before an election, promising to "get Brexit done". (Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP)
Image: Boris Johnson is in Manchester for his first party conference as leader

Asked if Ms Edwardes had made it up, the PM responded: “I’m just saying what I’ve said.

“What the public wants to hear is what we are doing for them and for the country and the investment in ways of uniting the country.”

Writing her first column for The Sunday Times, Ms Edwardes said the alleged incident took place at the London offices of The Spectator shortly after Mr Johnson became editor in 1999.

She wrote: “I’m seated on Johnson’s right; on his left is a young woman I know.

“More wine is poured; more wine is drunk. Under the table I feel Johnson’s hand on my thigh. He gives it a squeeze.

“His hand is high up my leg and he has enough inner flesh beneath his fingers to make me sit suddenly upright.”

After the lunch, she said she had confided in the young woman who was sitting on the other side of Mr Johnson, who told her: “Oh God, he did exactly the same to me.”

Sajid Javid: 'I absolutely believe the prime minister'
Javid: ‘I absolutely believe PM’ over claim

The Spectator’s commissioning editor Mary Wakefield has said she is “not the woman referred to” in the column.

Ms Wakefield, who is married to the PM’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings, said: “I am not the woman referred to in Charlotte Edwardes’ column.

“Boris was a good boss and nothing like this ever happened to me. Nor has Charlotte, who I like and admire, ever discussed the incident with me.”

Mr Johnson’s father Stanley said he trusted his son’s denial.

“What fathers and mothers and children do is all trust each other to tell the truth,” he told Sky News.

“In any event, who’s cooking this one up?”

Chancellor Sajid Javid earlier told Sky News that “I absolutely trust the prime minister and his word.”

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Mr Javid delivered the keynote speech on the second day of the conference.

He detailed a multibillion-pound spending blitz on roads, buses and broadband, including plans for an all-electric bus town.

The chancellor also announced he plans to raise the National Living Wage to £10.50 an hour.

Earlier, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick set out plans to cut red tape which could help homeowners looking to extend their properties and small developers building new homes.

Meanwhile, Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has announced that new apps aimed at helping young people find work will be trialled as part of a multimillion-pound employment initiative.

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