Allegations are ‘sordid and untrue’, according to source
Boris Johnson and his then girlfriend Carrie Symonds were not caught “in flagrante” when a government minister walked in on them in Mr Johnson’s Commons office as foreign secretary, Downing Street has told The Independent.
A senior No 10 source attacked “sordid and untrue” reports of the alleged incident that have surfaced in recent days. The source said Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns, who raised concerns with colleagues after walking in on the couple in 2018, before their relationship was public, is “adamant that nothing remotely physical was going on”.
They were not found “in physical contact” by Mr Burns, stated the No 10 source, who said they had discussed the matter at length with him. Asked if Mr Johnson had been questioned about the matter, the source said: “No, it’s not why he was elected prime minister. It’s neither here nor there.”
Put to the individual that Mr Johnson’s private conduct as foreign secretary in his official parliamentary office was a legitimate matter of public interest, the Downing Street source said: “Conor has said it’s not true. They are mad old questions about a non-event many years ago before Boris got to Downing Street.”
The Independent revealed on Friday that Mr Burns was the mystery MP who walked in on Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds. Mr Burns “flagged up” the couple’s relationship to Foreign Office officials after finding them “having a glass of wine together” alone because he had a “sixth sense” that their relationship was “one to watch”, Downing Street said on Friday.
A second source said that Mr Burns, one of Mr Johnson’s most loyal supporters, was “seriously shaken” after stumbling on Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds unannounced.
At the time, he was Mr Johnson’s parliamentary private secretary – “Boris’s bag carrier” as he lightheartedly referred to himself – with free access to him.
“He [Burns] wanted to know what to do about it,” said the source. “His only concern was to protect Boris. He is devoted to him.”
It has been previously reported that Mr Burns raised the issue with fellow Foreign Office aide Ben Gascoigne, who is now No 10 deputy chief of staff.
Alerted to concerns that Mr Johnson was having an extramarital relationship with Ms Symonds, Mr Gascoigne and other aides blocked a bid by Mr Johnson to appoint Ms Symonds as his £100,000-a-year Foreign Office chief of staff.
They also discussed fears that it could expose foreign secretary Mr Johnson to the risk of blackmail if the information fell into the hands of Britain’s enemies.
He [Mr Burns] thought it was something he needed to flag up. It was about a sixth sense that this was one to watch
A source said: “After Conor saw them together in his office, Boris’s staff knew it could be dangerous if the wrong people found out.
"They decided his private life was his own business but stopped him making her [Carrie] his chief of staff because it would have increased his exposure.”
The relationship was made public several months later in 2018 after Mr Johnson’s separation from his second wife Marina, was announced.
At the time of the incident witnessed by Mr Burns, Ms Symonds was the Tory party’s head of communications. She left that post in the summer of 2018 after allegations that she had abused her expenses.
The claim that Mr Johnson and Ms Symonds were found in a “compromising situation” was first made in a biography of Carrie Johnson by Tory Michael Ashcroft earlier this year.
On Friday, Downing Street confirmed that an incident occurred. The source said: “Conor did walk in on them. He saw two people sitting having a glass of wine whereby [one] may have concluded where the relationship was heading. He did not interrupt anything.” (©Independent News Media).