Downing Street has been forced to deny claims that Boris Johnson squeezed the thighs of two women under the table during a private lunch.
Journalist Charlotte Edwardes said the incident took place at the offices of The Spectator magazine in London shortly after Mr Johnson became editor in 1999.
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.”
Sunday Times journalist Charlotte Edwardes has said Johnson groped her leg under a table, grabbing “enough inner flesh beneath his fingers” to make her “sit upright.”
Two Conservative cabinet ministers have lost their jobs when it was alleged they behaved inappropriately with women.
Asked about the allegations against Boris Johnson, Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid dismissed them as “personal allegations,” and said the PM denied them.
A Number 10 spokesman said: “This allegation is untrue.”
Senior Tories say the Sunday Times journalist is trustworthy
But senior Conservatives – including a member of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet – said Ms Edwardes was trustworthy.
And Ms Edwardes herself added: “If the Prime Minister doesn’t recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does.”
If the prime minister doesn’t recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does https://t.co/pbcLJThkqP
— Charlotte Edwardes (@chedwardes) September 29, 2019
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said he knows Ms Edwardes well, said he believed her to be trustworthy, adding: “I entirely trust what she has to say.”
Asked if he believed her claims, he said: “I know her and I know her to be trustworthy.”
Former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has since said in a tweet “I agree with @MattHancock”.
— Amber Rudd MP (@AmberRuddHR) September 29, 2019
“His hand is high up my leg”
Writing her first column for The Sunday Times, Ms Edwardes said: “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.”
This is a shocking, but sadly all too familiar, story.
What is it about powerful men feeling entitled to harass women?
— (((Dawn Butler MP))) (@DawnButlerBrent) September 29, 2019
Labour’s shadow secretary for women and equalities Dawn Butler said it was a “shocking but sadly all too familiar story”.
“What is it about powerful men feeling entitled to harass women? Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer,” she tweeted.
Serious charges of abuse of power
Dawn Butler has now written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Seawall and Chair of the Conservative Party James Cleverly, calling for an “urgent and thorough” investigation into the “serious allegations of misconduct” in the Sunday Times.
She wrote that this is the “latest in a number of serious charges of abuse of power” made against Johnson, which include allegations of misuse of public funds and failing to declare his personal interests in the Jennifer Arcuri affair.
More details emerged over the weekend of the American former model turned tech entrepreneur’s friends being aware of their affair. Boris Johnson, then married to the mother of his children, failed to declare an interest as he intervened to ensure she was flown on foreign trips with him and while she was given tax payers’ money for her ailing tech training firm.
The Sunday Times has now reported that she confided to four friends that they had been engaged in an affair during his time in City Hall.
It follows reports by the same paper that Ms Arcuri was given £126,000 in public money and privileged access to three foreign trade missions led by Mr Johnson while he was mayor.
But appearing on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Johnson insisted “everything was done with full propriety”.
Dodging questions over the affair, the Prime Minister had to insist there was “no interest to declare” over his relationship with the American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri when he was mayor of London.
PM faces probes
The PM now faces investigations over the affair by the current Mayor of London, the London Assembly and a police watchdog.
The Labour Party also demands a probe into the PM’s conflict of interest with his hedge fund backers who also backed the Brexit campaign and stand to profit from backing British firms to lose out in a no-deal brexit.
In a letter to Sir Mark Sedwill, shadow chancellor John McDonnell expressed concern that big Conservative donors who backed Mr Johnson had a financial interest in a no-deal break.
His intervention comes after former chancellor Philip Hammond accused Mr Johnson of failing to pursue negotiations with the EU seriously while speculators were set to make a killing if the UK left without an agreement.
Writing in The Times, Mr Hammond said he was voicing concerns shared by the Prime Minister’s sister, Rachel Johnson.
“Boris Johnson asserts, ever more boldly, that we will leave the EU on October 31, ‘with or without a deal’,” he wrote.
“But as his sister has reminded us, he is backed by speculators who have bet billions on a hard Brexit – and there is only one outcome that works for them: a crash-out no-deal Brexit that sends the currency tumbling and inflation soaring.
“So they, at least, will be reassured to see no evidence at all that his Government has seriously pursued a deliverable deal; still less that it has been pursuing a deal that could get us out by October 31.”
String of infidelity allegations
The latest allegations of infidelity with Jennifer Arcuri follow a string of well-publicised stories involving Mr Johnson’s private life, some of which plagued his 25 year marriage to second wife Marina Wheeler.
In 2004 he was sacked from the Tory frontbench over a reported affair with journalist and colleague at The Spectator, Petronella Wyatt.
He described claims about the relationship as “an inverted pyramid of piffle” at the time.
Affair claims reared their head again in 2006 when it was reported that the married father-of-four had been romancing Anna Fazackerley of the Times Higher Education Supplement.
The Appeal Court ruled in 2013 that the public had a right to know that he had fathered a daughter during another adulterous liaison with another woman, Helen Macintyre, while mayor of London in 2009.
Despite surviving years of turmoil, Mr Johnson and his lawyer wife separated and began divorce proceedings in 2018 and he is now living at Downing Street with former Tory Party worker Carrie Symonds, 31.
Fury as Conservative Party conference kicks off
The groping allegations – and Labour’s efforts to capitalise on the row – have caused fury in Number 10 at the start of the Conservative Party conference.
Earlier, Mr Hancock played down the report saying there were “always lots of other stories in papers”.
Speaking at a Tory party fringe event in Manchester hosted by HuffPostUK, he said: “Boris has never lectured other people about their private lives.
“I think that we should concentrate on delivering on what we are in politics for, which in my view is to serve the citizens of this country.”
But speaking to Channel 4 News, Mr Hancock said he did not “dismiss it at all”.
Mr Hancock said he did not know the details, adding it was incumbent not to “react without the full details”.
He added: “I know Charlotte well, and I entirely trust what she has to say.”
Mr Hancock said: “What I would say is that these are important issues and getting the response right is incredibly important.
“But there’s also something here about making sure that the way I try to carry on my life – both in public and in private frankly – is with a high degree of integrity.”
He added: “Nobody’s perfect but I think that is how we should try to go about things.”