Asked why certain people have access to Mr Johnson’s number, she responded: “Of course they don’t hand them out willy-nilly, and I’m not even sure I have got the Prime Minister’s number, to be honest with you. We are talking about someone who is one of the top British business people in the world.”
Pressed to check whether she did have Mr Johnson’s number she reached for her phone, looked through her contacts, before saying: “No, I don’t have it.” Her comments came just hours after Mr Johnson’s former aide Dominic Cummings was blamed for the leaking of the Prime Minister’s text messages.
An internal inquiry has been launched into how messages between Mr Johnson and billionaire Sir James were leaked to journalists. In one of them, Mr Johnson promised the entrepreneur he would “fix” a tax issue for Dyson staff returning to the UK from overseas to join the emergency race to produce thousands of ventilators at the height of the coronavirus crisis last year.
Reports said Downing Street sources were pointing the finger at Mr Cummings, who quit as the Prime Minister’s senior adviser last year following a behind the scenes power struggle at No10. The Times, Daily Telegraph and The Sun all reported comments from an insider naming Mr Cummings.
“Dominic is engaged in systematic leaking,” a source told The Times. “We are disappointed about that. We are concerned about messages from private WhatsApp groups which have very limited circulation.” The source suggested Mr Johnson was “saddened” and Mr Cummings was “bitter” after his exit from No10. In other developments:
Labour sought to keep the spotlight on Mr Johnson as the lobbying storm grew. The party’s deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “What doesn’t matter: who did or didn’t leak texts. What does matter: a Prime Minister and Government engulfed in sleaze, dodgy lobbying, crony contracts for party donors and favours for their mates.”
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was due to be grilled on Monday by the Commons public administration committee amid the furore.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, chairman of the Commons liaison committee, stated that there was a need for “a system of managing conflicts of interest, which commands more public confidence...but also a balance” so ministers were not “locked away in ivory towers” with people unable to contact them.
Father of the House Sir Peter Bottomley said that if the leaker had concerns over a “serious problem”, he or she should have raised it “at the time”.
Sir James said his company did not benefit from the ventilator project, and “voluntarily covered the £20 million of development costs”. He has recently changed his main address in business filings to the UK from Singapore.
The leak of the text exchange with Sir James was not the first time the Prime Minister’s messages have been made public. Mr Johnson was sent a text message by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a bid to buy Newcastle United ran into difficulties last June.
A No10 source told The Sun that Mr Johnson “fears Dom was responsible for the text message leaks about James Dyson and Mohammed bin Salman”.
Former Vote Leave mastermind Mr Cummings has not responded to the claims.