Downing Street has confirmed it was in conversation with The Times around the time the newspaper dropped a report claiming Boris Johnson tried to appoint his now wife to a government role when he was foreign secretary.
However, the report was pulled from later editions of the paper, raising questions about whether No 10 put pressure on the paper’s editors.
On Monday, the prime minister’s spokesperson admitted there had been contact between Downing Street and The Times before and after the story was published.
Asked whether there were conversations after its initial publication, the spokesperson told reporters: “That’s my understanding.”
He refused to say “who spoke to who,” but denied it was the prime minister himself.
“I’ve checked and I’ve been assured that he hasn’t spoken to anyone,” he said. “I’m not aware of any calls by the PM.”
They added that “it is entirely a matter for publications, for journalists to decide on what they write”.
Asked about the allegations originally reported by The Times, the spokesperson did not directly refute them but pointed to earlier denials by a spokesperson for Mrs Johnson, who said: “These claims are totally untrue.”
They said: “As a function of my role, I don’t comment on what the prime minister did before he was prime minister.
“I think my political colleagues have over the weekend made clear that the story’s not true as has Mrs Johnson’s spokesperson.
“I’m pointing to the on-the-record denials that have been made over the weekend”.
They added that the prime minister “believes in hiring the right people for the right roles”.
However, the author of The Times’ story, Simon Walters, said he stood by the report “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 told The New European.
“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 former chief aide, Dominic Cummings, has also supported the claims and alleged Mr Johnson also wanted to appoint his wife to a government job in late 2020.
He tweeted: “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.”
Asked whether Mr Johnson attempted to give her a government job while he was in Downing Street, his spokesperson said: “Again my understanding is that claim is also untrue but these claims have been reported before and denied”.