Watch: PM denies 'bodies could pile up comment'
Boris Johnson has come under fire over a series of inflammatory claims involving both his personal and professional conduct.
The prime minister is facing increasing pressure to answer questions about a host of controversies including the funding of his official Downing Street flat refurbishment and texts sent between himself and billionaire Sir James Dyson.
Johnson is among several senior Conservative figures who have been accused of “Tory sleaze” and “cronyism” in recent weeks due to their close ties and dealings with lobbyists.
But tensions have intensified in the last few days after his former top aide Dominic Cummings denied leaking the Dyson text messages to the media and subsequently launched an unbridled attack on the prime minister, which included several bombshell claims.
In a blog post shared on his website, Cummings wrote: “It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves.”
Cummings also criticised the way Downing Street had responded to the recent accusations, saying: “Issues concerning COVID and/or the PM’s conduct should not be handled as No10 has handled them over the past 24 hours.”
The controversies have caused the Tories to plunge five points in the polls, according to an Ipsos MORI survey in the Evening Standard.
The pollsters found the Tories on 40%, down from 45% in March, three points clear of Labour who are on 37%, down from 38%.
Here, Yahoo News UK outlines four claims against Boris Johnson that could be damaging his premiership.
1. Let 'bodies pile high'
Johnson has been accused of saying he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order another coronavirus lockdown.
According to The Daily Mail, the prime minister said during a meeting in No.10 in October: “No more ****ing lockdowns — let the bodies pile high in their thousands.”
ITV’s political correspondent Robert Peston also said two witnesses corroborated the Mail’s report to him. The BBC has also been told the quote is accurate.
The prime minister has since denied the reports, with multiple senior Tories describing it as an outright lie.
When he was asked on Monday if he had ever made the comment, he simply replied: “No, but the important thing that people to see us get on and do is to make sure, as a government, the lockdowns work.”
2. Jennifer Arcuri affair claims
Johnson is currently facing further questions about an alleged affair with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.
Arcuri claimed she had a sexual relationship with Johnson back when he was mayor of London and still married to his now ex-wife Marina Wheeler.
Her allegations returned to headlines again last month when she told the Mirror that she had slept with Johnson in his family home while Wheeler was away.
But during Johnson's tenure in City Hall, Arcuri also benefited from thousands of pounds in public money and was given coveted places on trade missions, despite failing to meet the criteria for those trips.
When these allegations first emerged in 2019, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigated them, concluding that no criminal inquiry was required.
However, its 112-page report said Johnson should have declared an interest in Arcuri. It also said that officials making decisions about sponsorship monies and attendance on trade missions "thought that there was a close relationship between Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri, and this influenced their decision-making".
Last month, Johnson’s then-press secretary Allegra Stratton said he acted with “honesty and integrity” during his mayorship and had “no case to answer”.
Johnson himself has never publicly acknowledged the affair but has not denied it either.
Watch: Boris Johnson faces growing calls to explain how he funded Downing Street refurbishment
But last week, the prime minister was challenged about the alleged affair again during a Downing Street press conference.
HuffPost political editor Paul Waugh asked Johnson whether his failure to declare interest in Accuri beached the Nolan principles - the UK’s seven principles of public life which include honesty, integrity, openness and accountability.
Waugh asked: "Do you agree with the Independent Office for Police Conduct in its review of your links with Jennifer Arcuri, which concluded, 'it would have been wise for Mr Johnson to have declared this as a conflict of interest and a failure to do so could have constituted a breach of the Nolan principles?'
He added: "Do you believe you acted with honesty and integrity in your relationship with Miss Arcuri, who claims you conducted your affair in your marital home?"
Johnson confined his answer to a blunt reply, saying: “The answer is yes.”
Claims Johnson sought to block press leak inquiry
In his blog post, Cummings alleged that Johnson sought to obstruct an inquiry into the second lockdown press leak because a friend of his fiancée Carrie Symonds could be implicated.
The Whitehall probe was launched after several newspapers reported at the end of October that the government was about to announce a second national lockdown.
Cummings wrote that the Cabinet secretary told him all the evidence pointed towards special adviser Henry Newman leaking the news to the media.
He wrote: “The PM was very upset about this. He said to me afterwards, ‘If Newman is confirmed as the leaker then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie as they’re best friends … [pause] perhaps we could get the Cabinet Secretary to stop the leak inquiry?”
On Monday, cabinet secretary Simon Case said that the so-called “chatty rat” leak inquiry is ongoing in a “clear indication that the source or sources haven’t been identified”.
He told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: “I hope the committee will understand I’m very constrained in what I can say given the security classification of the exercise of the leak inquiry.
“What I can say is the investigation is ongoing and this is a clear indication that the source or sources haven’t been identified.
“In the time that has now passed, I think it is probable that the team will not successfully identify the source or sources but work is ongoing.”
The Dyson scandal
Johnson has also been accused of “Tory sleaze” after his text messages with entrepreneur Sir James Dyson were leaked to the press.
In the messages, the prime minister assured Dyson that his employees would not have to pay extra tax if they came to the UK to make ventilators at the start of the pandemic.
Dyson first wrote to the Treasury but after he did not receive a reply, he texted Johnson directly.
The prime minister replied: “I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic,” and later said: “[Chancellor] Rishi [Sunak] says it is fixed!! We need you here.”
When Dyson sought further assurance, Johnson replied: “James, I am first lord of the Treasury and you can take it that we are backing you to do what you need.”
Two weeks later, Sunak told the Commons Treasury committee that the tax status of people who came to the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not be affected.
Downing Street has now launched an inquiry into who leaked the messages to the BBC with No 10 sources telling the media that Cummings was to blame - prompting his explosive blog post.
The prime minister has denied the claims, saying you're "out of your mind" if you think there is "something dodgy" about the texts.
He then promised parliament he would publish all his texts with Dyson.
But he was later accused of failing to honour this pledge when Downing Street released a statement detailing his conversation with Dyson, rather than the messages themselves.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has repeatedly criticised the government of “Tory sleaze” as well as how it has handled this particular controversy.
He told BBC News: “It matters. It is about integrity, it is about taxpayers’ money. Every day, there is more evidence of this sleaze. Frankly, it stinks.
“If there is nothing to see here, whether it is the refurb of No 10, whether it is the dodgy contracts, whether it is the privileged access … if there is nothing to see, publish everything, have a full inquiry. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
It comes after Starmer and Johnson clashed during prime minister’s questions over the text exchange on Wednesday.
Starmer asked: “What is the right thing to do if the PM receives a text message from a billionaire supporter asking him to fix tax rules?”
Johnson responded by saying he would not apologise for “shifting heaven and earth” to obtain ventilators and save lives.
On Monday, Cabinet minister Michael Gove dismissed MPs' claims that the government had formed “a clear pattern of behaviour” that “absolutely stinks”.
During the urgent question session in the Commons, Gove also refused to heed calls for an updated register of ministers’ interests to be published and for an independent public inquiry into the government’s conduct during the pandemic.
Gove said that the government’s processes and techniques to procure PPE and ventilators during the pandemic “stand up to scrutiny”.
He also accused those making these claims of trying to score political points instead of acknowledging the government’s efforts to save lives during the pandemic.
Watch: Boris Johnson says 'you're out of your mind' if you think Dyson texts were 'dodgy'