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November 19, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:47am

Downing Street denies plan for libel action against The New European

By Charlotte Tobitt

Downing Street has denied Boris Johnson has plans to take legal action over a “defamatory” story in The New European.

The anti-Brexit title reported this week that Johnson had allegedly claimed to have “buyer’s remorse” over his marriage to wife Carrie.

The New European reported that Johnson had made the comment at a dinner full of Telegraph hacks past and present at men-only Garrick Club in London earlier this month.

The newspaper has now revealed editor-in-chief Matt Kelly was contacted late on Thursday night by a Downing Street press officer saying the article was defamatory and untrue.

According to Kelly, he was told Boris Johnson would be launching legal action for defamation.

However the Prime Minister’s spokesperson denied this on Friday morning.

The No 10 press office told Press Gazette the threat of legal action was untrue, as was the original comment reported. “He [Johnson] never said that,” we were told.

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The New European has said it stands by both its original story and the story about the libel threat. Kelly told Press Gazette: “If they follow through with their threat to sue us, we will see them in court.”

The title’s editor-at-large Alastair Campbell tweeted “bring it on”, saying it was an attempt to intimidate a small publisher and that barristers would “line up pro bono” to get Johnson in the witness box.

It is rare for a sitting prime minister to sue a news publisher.

In 1993 John Major successfully sued The New Statesman and Scallywag magazines over articles that falsely claimed he was having an affair with a caterer, proving a major hit to The New Statesman’s finances and forcing Scallywag to close. However The New Statesman sued for costs almost ten years later after it emerged he had had an affair with a different woman, the former MP Edwina Currie.

It is more common for a threat to come to nothing. In 2016 Donald Trump threatened to sue The New York Times over its reporting that he had inappropriately touched two women, but the newspaper defended its story and nothing ever went to court.

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