Boris Johnson denies groping journalist two decades ago

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied an allegation that he groped a female journalist while he was the editor of the Spectator magazine two decades ago.

Charlotte Edwardes, now a columnist at the Sunday Times, wrote on Sunday that Johnson squeezed her thigh under the table during a lunch, and claimed he did the same thing to an unidentified woman sitting on his other side during the same event.

Edwardes said the incident took place during a private lunch in the late 1990s or early 2000s, when she was a newspaper reporter in her 20s and occasionally contributed to the Spectator. Johnson was in his 30s.

“More wine is poured; more wine is drunk. Under the table, I feel Johnson’s hand on my thigh. He gives it a squeeze. His hand is high up my leg, and he has enough inner flesh beneath his fingers to make me sit suddenly upright,” she wrote.

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman — who usually confines himself to political matters — denied the allegations in a one-line statement. “This allegation is untrue,” it read.

Confronted with the Edwardes allegations during a visit to a factory on Monday, Johnson was equally blunt. “No,” he said, in reply to a question about whether the incident happened, before steering away from the topic.

“No, and I think what the public want to hear is about what we are doing to level up and unite the country and the announcements we are making today,” the Prime Minister said, referring to an infrastructure and road program announcement.

However, even some members of Johnson’s own government expressed support for Edwardes.

Speaking to Britain’s Channel 4 News, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “I know Charlotte well and I entirely trust what she has to say. I know her and I know her to be trustworthy.”

Amber Rudd, until recently the work and pensions secretary in Johnson’s government, tweeted that she agreed with Hancock.

The accusation from Edwardes was the second time in just a week that Johnson was forced to defend himself.

The Prime Minister is also facing a criminal misconduct inquiry over his relationship with Jennifer Arcuri, an American businesswoman whose firm received tens of thousands of pounds in public funding during Johnson’s tenure as the Mayor of London.

The monitoring office of the Greater London Authority (GLA) said Friday: “Allegations have been brought to the attention of the Monitoring Officer that Boris Johnson maintained a friendship with Jennifer Arcuri and as a result of that friendship allowed Ms. Arcuri to participate in trade missions and receive sponsorship monies in circumstances when she and her companies could not have expected otherwise to receive those benefits.”

The Independent Office for Police Conduct is currently assessing whether to investigate Johnson over a potential criminal offense of misconduct in public office.

Arcuri and her company have not responded to CNN’s request for comment. She told the Sunday Times: “any grants received and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman.”

Downing Street declined to comment to CNN on the allegations, but Johnson said in a BBC interview that everything was done “entirely in the proper way.”