Boris Johnson denies thigh squeeze claim as Cabinet ministers say they trust him

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Paul Brand

Boris Johnson has again denied an allegation that he squeezed the thigh of a journalist without her permission, as several members of his top team backed his trustworthiness.

The prime minister insisted allegations against him - which also include accusations around his links to an American business woman while he was London mayor - will "not at all" overshadow the Tory Party Conference.

Questioned about journalist Charlotte Edwardes' claim that Mr Johnson squeezed her thigh at a private lunch at The Spectator magazine's HQ shortly after be became editor in 1999, Mr Johnson denied it.​

Asked if he had done it, he told reporters during a visit to a business in Manchester: "No, and I think what the public want to hear is about what we are doing to level up and unite the country."​

Chancellor Sajid Javid backed him up, telling ITV News he "absolutely trusts" the prime minister.

However he said he did not want to be drawn into personal allegations on the prime minister's private life.

Mr Javid said: "It's an allegation, the prime minister has said it is completely untrue, and of course I absolutely believe trust the prime minister."

Several members of the PM's top team echoed the chancellor, telling ITV News they "absolutely" trust the prime minister.

Ministers Nicky Morgan, Theresa Villiers, Brandon Lewis, and Alok Sharma all said they trust him.

Later, at a fringe event, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary Ms Morgan said: "Just for the sake of the record, the Prime Minister's spokesperson was very clear that there is no truth in these allegations and I have no further comment to add."

When the PM was asked if Ms Edwardes had made up the allegations, he responded: "I'm just saying what I've said.

"What the public want to hear is what we are doing for them and for the country and the investment in ways of uniting the country."​

"I think what the public want to hear is what we are doing to bring the country together and get on with improving their lives," he said.​

"I think I would make one general comment. I think there is a lot of people who basically want to stop us delivering Brexit on October 31.​

"But I have to tell you we are not going to be deterred from that ambition. We are going to get on and do it, we are going to get us over the line.​

"I think that that is the best thing for the country because it's been going on a long time now, this row over Brexit."​

Cabinet ministers rallied around the Prime Minister after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday that he would "entirely trust" Ms Edwardes.​

Mr Javid added: "I'm not going to be drawn on the nature of the allegation, because it's not something that I should really talk about, it would be inappropriate.

"These are personal allegations and sadly these kind of allegations, they do happen."

After the alleged incident, Ms Edwardes, 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.”

Downing Street was forced to deny the claims made by Ms Edwardes, as the party faithful gather in Manchester for the annual conference.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “This allegation is untrue.”

Separately, the Prime Minister had to insist there was “no interest to declare” amid a storm over his association with the American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri when he was Mayor of London.

At the conference on Monday, Mr Javid will set out plans for an “infrastructure revolution” which will bring new investments in roads, buses and broadband.

He will use a speech to the conference to outline the first projects that will be included in the promised road investment strategy, a £5 billion package to support the roll-out of broadband and a £220 million fund for buses.

However with Brexit likely to be the focus of the conference, the Chancellor said talks with Brussels were ongoing to secure a deal and the Government had made "incredible progress."

"When we had the change in administration, before the new Cabinet came into place, Mr [Michel] Barnier was also saying there is no way he would negotiate anything, he said nothing would be discussed, not even a full stop in the Withdrawal Agreement...he's not saying that any more.

"He's sitting down in the discussions and we are having very detailed discussions almost every other day."

However he reiterated the prime minister's pledge the UK would leave the EU, even without a deal on October 31.

Mr Javid said the UK's economy was strong enough to withstand a no-deal Brexit and the investment in infrastructure is secure for the long-term.

Meanwhile, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick will set out plans to cut red tape which could help homeowners looking to extend and small developers building new properties.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey will announce that new apps aimed at helping young people find work are to be trialled as part of a multimillion-pound employment initiative.

The party will hope the announcements take attention away from the reports on Mr Johnson’s private life.

On Sunday, 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”.