BORIS JOHNSON yesterday dismissed groping allegations, and insisted the public did not want to hear about claims of his sexual misconduct.
The prime minister rejected claims by journalist Charlotte Edwardes that he squeezed her thigh under the table when he was editor of the Spectator magazine at a lunch 20 years ago — and that another woman told her: ‘He did exactly the same to me.’
Speculation swirled yesterday over the identity of the second woman, prompting a denial from Mary Wakefield, who is the wife of Mr Johnson’s chief aide Dominic Cummings.
Ms Wakefield, an editor at the magazine, insisted it was not her, adding: ‘Boris was a good boss and nothing like this ever happened to me. Nor has Charlotte, who I like and admire, ever discussed the incident with me.’
However, a second woman did come forward last night with a new claim.
Comedian and commentator Shappi Khorsandi said Mr Johnson touched her hand under the desk when she appeared alongside him on the BBC’s Question Time.
She wrote on Twitter: ‘I feel duty bound to say that on QT years back (before the recording started) BJ squeezed my hand, which rested on my leg, under the table to ‘reassure’ my nerves.’ She added: ‘Only mentioning it as I’ve found it bloody annoying that some are saying @chedwardes made it up.’
The claims threatened to overshadow the Tory Party conference, with the PM already fending off reports of an affair with businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri while he was mayor of London.
‘What the public want to hear is what we are doing to bring the country together and get on with improving their lives,’ Mr Johnson said, as he was joined in Manchester by his current partner Carrie Symonds.
He denied the claim but stopped short of saying that Ms Edwardes was a liar, adding: ‘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.’
Ms Edwardes, 45, whose partner is the ITV News political editor, Robert Peston, tweeted: ‘If the prime minister doesn’t recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does.’
Former Spectator columnist Toby Young recalled the ‘raucous days’ at the magazine when Mr Johnson was its editor. ‘Back then people complained if Boris didn’t put his hand on their knee,’ he said. ‘Times really have changed.’
Ms Edwardes was backed by health secretary Matt Hancock. ‘I know her, and I know her to be trustworthy,’ he told Channel 4 News. Former education secretary Justine Greening called the claim ‘serious and damaging’, saying ‘they go to the heart of the question about character and integrity of people in public life.’
Mr Johnson also faced an awkward exchange over an earlier claim that public money had been ‘spaffed up the wall’ on ‘some investigation into historic child abuse’.
ITV’s Joe Pike asked him: ‘Do you understand that survivors of child sexual abuse will hear you use the word “spaffed”, which means “ejaculate”, prime minister? Is this the right way to talk?’ Mr Johnson said he had not meant investigations into grooming but those into bogus claims.