The Times pulled its story about claims Boris Johnson tried to appoint his then-mistress Carrie to a Government role when he was Foreign Secretary after receiving calls from Downing Street, a No 10 spokesperson has admitted.
According to the story in The Times on Saturday, Mr Johnson attempted to hire Carrie Johnson, then Symonds, as his chief of staff at the Foreign Office in 2018.
The report, which led page five, was pulled from later editions of the paper, sparking questions over whether No 10 applied political pressure on its editors.
The story also briefly appeared on Mail Online before it too was removed.
The claim was first aired by Lord Ashcroft in his biography of Mr Johnson and has separately been on Mail Online as part of a Mail on Sunday serialisation of the book since February this year.
Who spoke to The Times?
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 Mr 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”.
Were The Times’ Carrie Johnson claims true?
On the allegations originally reported by The Times, he did not directly rebut 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”.
Times publisher News UK declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Press Gazette on Monday.
Despite online speculation that an injunction had been sought, this is not understood to have been the case.
Simon Walters, the journalist who wrote the Times story, told The New European on Sunday afternoon: “I stand by the story 100 per cent.
“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.”
Walters, who last year broke the “Wallpaper-gate” story for the Daily Mail that the Johnsons had asked Tory donors to foot a £58,000 bill to redecorate their Downing Street flat, added: “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.”
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.
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 his now-wife 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.”
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