Downing Street has confirmed it was involved in pressuring The Times to retract reports that Boris Johnson had wanted to give Carrie Symonds a top government job during their affair, while he served as foreign secretary.
Amid criticism of his handling of Partygate, the Rwanda deportation flights and ongoing cost of living crisis, prime minister Boris Johnson has once again been condemned after Downing Street confirmed that it pressured The Times to retract a story claiming that he offered his then-mistress Carrie Symonds a top job in the Foreign Office.
The story published on Saturday (18 June) reported that Johnson had attempted to hire Symonds, who he has since married, as his taxpayer-funded chief of staff when he was foreign secretary and she was a Conservative party press chief, while the two were involved in an affair.
However, the alleged move to install her in a £100,000-a-year job was reported to have been blocked by close aides. Johnson was still married to his wife of 26-years, Marina Wheeler, at the time.
The story, which expanded on claims in a biography First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson, written by Tory donor and peer Lord Ashcroft earlier this year, appeared in the first edition of the newspaper on Saturday, but vanished from later copies.
A version also disappeared from the Mail Online website, leading to speculation that No 10 had intervened to have the piece pulled.
On Monday, Johnson’s spokesperson admitted there had been contact between Downing Street and The Times before and after the story was published.
Confirming the conversations with the paper before and after the story was published., the spokesperson refused to say “who spoke to who,” but denied it was the prime minister himself.
The spokesperson for Carrie Johnson also denied the claims, calling them “totally untrue”.
However, the freelance journalist who wrote it, Simon Walters, has defended the article, telling the New European: “I stand by the story 100%. I was in lengthy and detailed communication with No 10 at a high level, Ben Gascoigne (deputy chief of staff at No 10) 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.”
Johnson’s former chief aide, Dominic Cummings, also supported the claims on Twitter, writing: “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.”
The incident has been termed “Carriegate” on social media – a reference to the 1972 Watergate political scandal – despite the fact Johnson isn’t believed to be directly involved in the allegations.
It is currently understood that no legal action has been taken by Downing Street in relation to the story.