Mystery continues to surround a now-deleted newspaper story which claimed Boris Johnson tried to give his then-girlfriend a £100,000-a-year job while he was foreign secretary.
The prime minister's spokesman said he understood the story to be untrue but refused to directly deny it, saying he could not comment on things that may have happened before Mr Johnson became prime minister but pointed to a denial from Carrie Johnson.
“These claims are totally untrue,” her spokesperson said when approached for comment by ITV News.
Mr Johnson's spokesman told reporters: "As a function of my role, I don’t comment on what the prime minister did before he was prime minister."
The prime minister, who underwent a routine sinus operation on Monday, was well enough on Monday evening to put in a brief appearance at a fundraiser for the Tory Party.
He was whisked in via a side entrance as questions hung in the air over the disappearing story.
The story was first reported in the Times newspaper on Saturday in its first edition, before disappearing from subsequent prints and not appearing online.
Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports following a briefing from Number 10:
It said Mr Johnson attempted to install Carrie as his Foreign Office chief of staff on a £100,000-a-year salary while conducting a secret affair with her while still married to his ex-wife in 2018.
Aides who reportedly knew of the affair were said to have intervened in order to prevent the emergence of a scandal.
Ben Gascoigne, at-the-time a senior aide for Mr Johnson at the foreign office who is now his deputy chief of staff in Number 10, reportedly threatened to resign in protest.
The MailOnline rewrote the story and published it in the early hours of Saturday but also deleted the article. No explanation for removing the story has been provided by either paper.
Mr Johnson's spokesman denied the prime minister had personally contacted the Times to have the story pulled but did not deny that someone else within Number 10 may have.
"I don’t know exactly who spoke [to whom], but as you all know, when claims are put to us, we regularly spoke to those journalists involved," he told journalists.
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Simon Walters, the Times journalist who wrote the original story, told the New European news-site that he stands by the story "100%".
“I was in lengthy and detailed communication with No 10 at a high level, Ben Gascoigne 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.”
He added: “Nor have any of these three offered an on-the-record denial to me since. No 10 and Mr Gascoigne did not deny it off-the-record either.”
Mr Johnson's spokesperson was unable to give a proper explanation as to why the story was not denied to Mr Walters before publication.
He said: "I think statements have been issued by Mrs Johnson and my No 10 colleagues over the weekend."
The prime minister's spokesperson was also asked whether Mr Johnson had personally phoned the deputy editor of The Times and asked him to pull the story, but the spokesperson maintained Mr Johnson had had no contact at all with the newspaper.
Dominic Cummings, who was previously a key Vote Leave ally of the prime minister before he became foreign secretary and later became his chief adviser in Number 10, insisted the "missing story" is "true" in a tweet, adding: "Truth is worse!"
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke said to ITV News that he had "absolutely no knowledge of that" and refused to comment on the allegations.
He repeated that line a number of times when pressed by Political Reporter Shehab Khan but eventually told him he believes the prime minister always acts within the rules.
"I have the highest possible admiration for the prime minister, he is someone I work alongside closely and I believe that he has always conducted himself in a way that is in accordance with the rules."
He added: "He is not somebody who I think should be the victim of what I think are often quite outlandish claims."