Allegations about Boris Johnson’s past behaviour towards women are “serious” and “damaging” and raise questions about the prime minister’s character, a former cabinet minister has said.
Justine Greening said that she had never personally witnessed any behaviour of the kind alleged from the prime minister, but said it was important that the claims were dealt with “appropriately” by Downing Street in order to maintain public faith in the integrity of politics.
Downing Street has been forced to deny allegations that Mr Johnson groped journalist Charlotte Edwardes’ leg at a dinner while editor of The Spectator in 1999, as a storm of outrage threatened to overshadow the party’s annual conference in Manchester.
And Mr Johnson himself was confronted with the claims during a TV interview. Asked whether it was true he touched a woman's thigh without her consent, he told Sky News: "No, and I think what the public want to hear is about what we are doing to level up and unite the country."
The PM insisted on Sunday that he had acted with “full propriety” in relation to US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, after claims emerged that she had said she was in an intimate relationship with him during his time as London mayor. He said that no conflict of interest arose when her company was awarded publicly-funded grants by City Hall and given access to overseas business missions which he led.
Ms Greening, who was stripped of the Conservative whip for rebelling over Brexit, told Sky News: “There are obviously deeply concerning allegations that have been made and I think they really do go to the heart of the character and integrity that people have a right to expect from politicians running this country.
“So I think that Number 10 should deal with these allegations.
“They are serious and it’s important that people who seek to run Britain and lead this country are those that the electorate has faith in. I think it’s important for the electorate that they do set high standards for people in public life.
Asked whether the allegations chimed with her own impression of Mr Johnson as an individual, the former minister said: “I’ve not seen that side of Boris. I can only talk about the person I’ve sat in cabinet with and worked with.
“But I do recognise these are serious allegations and I think it’s important they are dealt with appropriately. They are both damaging allegations that need to be dealt with fully by Number 10.”
Downing Street was forced to issue a statement declaring Ms Edwardes’ allegations “untrue” as a series of ministers found themselves grilled on the claims at the Manchester conference.
But Ms Edwardes stood by her claims, tweeting: “If the prime minister doesn’t recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does.”
Cabinet minister Matt Hancock provoked fury from senior female MPs when he initially sought to defend Mr Johnson by arguing the alleged incident at the Spectator’s old headquarters in London was a “private” matter.
Amid a growing backlash, the health secretary rowed back from his comments, telling Channel 4: “I know Charlotte well and I entirely trust what she has to say”.
And ex-Tory cabinet minister Amber Rudd dealt a fresh blow to the prime minister, by publicly declaring she agreed with Mr Hancock.
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