In a dramatic new development, Downing Street reluctantly admitted this afternoon there were indeed talks between Number 10 and The Times before Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper dropped a story that claimed Boris Johnson tried to appoint his now wife to a Government role when he was Foreign Secretary.
According to the story in The Times on Saturday, Johnson attempted to hire Carrie Johnson – his mistress at the time as the PM was still married to his ex-wife Marina – as his chief of staff on a salary for £100k per annum at the Foreign Office in 2018.
The report was pulled from later editions of the paper, sparking questions over whether No 10 applied political pressure on its editors.
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson on Monday acknowledged there had been contact between Downing Street and The Times before and after the story was published.
Asked whether there were conversations after its initial publication specifically, the spokesperson told reporters: “That’s my understanding”.
He refused to say “who spoke to who”, but denied that it was Johnson himself.
“I’ve checked and I’ve been assured that he hasn’t spoken to anyone,” he said. “I’m not aware of any calls by the PM.”
The spokesperson added that “it is entirely a matter for publications, for journalists to decide on what they write”.
On the allegations originally reported by The Times, he did not directly refute them but pointed to earlier denials by a spokesperson for Mrs Johnson, who said: “These claims are totally untrue.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson told journalists: “As a function of my role, I don’t comment on what the Prime Minister did before he was Prime Minister.
“I think my political colleagues have over the weekend made clear that the story’s not true as has Mrs Johnson’s spokesperson.
“I’m pointing to the on-the-record denials that have been made over the weekend”.
The spokesperson added that Mr Johnson “believes in hiring the right people for the right roles”.
The author of The Times’ story, veteran journalist Simon Walters, said he stood by the story “100%”.
“I was in lengthy and detailed communication with No 10 at a high level, Ben Gascoigne and Mrs Johnson’s spokeswoman for up to 48 hours before the paper went to press. At no point did any of them offer an on-the-record denial of any element of the story,” he told The New European.
“Nor have any of these three offered an on-the-record denial to me since. No 10 and Mr Gascoigne did not deny it off-the-record either.”veteran journalist Simon Walters
The Prime Minister’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings has supported the claims and alleged Mr Johnson also wanted to appoint his wife to a Government job in late 2020.
Mr Cummings tweeted: “The ‘missing story’ (pulled by Times after no10 call Fri night) is true. Walters repeatedly published accurate stories, e.g on illegal donations. Times pathetic to have folded & shd reverse ferret. Truth is worse! (Johnson) wanted to appoint girlfriend to gvt job in Q3 2020 too”.
Asked whether Mr Johnson attempted to give her a Government job while he was in Downing Street, his spokesperson said: “Again my understanding is that claim is also untrue but these claims have been reported before and denied”.