It's another good day not to be in Downing Street. Spinners there will be bracing themselves for questions today about the curious case of a story about Carrie Johnson which featured in Saturday’s edition of the Times.
The report – by veteran scoop-getter Simon Walters – claimed that Boris Johnson tried to make his then-mistress his £100,000-a-year chief of staff at the Foreign Office in 2018. It featured on page five of the paper’s first edition but was pulled from subsequent ones; the story was also published on Mail Online but removed shortly afterwards.
And here’s the thing: newspapers might correct political articles but they rarely remove them altogether. The only time this has happened before was when the Times took down a story about Carrie Johnson and the resentment caused in No. 10 by Dilyn, her yapping dog. A story which has, incidentally, been vindicated by recent events.
So what happened to this story? Questions are now being asked as to whether No. 10 applied political pressure on the Times or Mail. Walters has told the New European that he stands by his story ‘100 per cent’ adding that ‘at no point did’ anyone from No. 10 ‘offer an on-the-record denial of any element of the story.’ Downing Street have since said that both the alleged job offer and Walters’ claim ‘are untrue.’ Curiously, the story was already in the public domain in Michael Ashcroft’s biography of Carrie, published earlier this year, and the Daily Mail’s serialisation of it.
Ironically, as the Guardian points out today, the incident could be an example of the Streisand effect — when an attempt to wipe something from the internet massively increases interest in it. It’s not the first time No. 10 has been accused of trying to kill stories that feature criticism of Carrie or her interests.
In November 2021, the New European said Downing Street had threatened to sue them over a story which claimed Boris Johnson had expressed ‘buyer’s remorse’ over Carrie. Previously in March 2020, the PM’s wife urged him to report the Times to press regulator Ipso over the aforementioned claim that Dilyn the dog was to be moved out of No. 10.
It's good to see one element of continuity in the Downing Street operation at least.
Update: No. 10 has now admitted that members of Boris Johnson’s team intervened following the publication of the story, but deny that the Prime Minister himself contacted the paper to complain.