26/04/2021 13:27 BST | Updated 26/04/2021 13:39 BST

No.10 Refuses To Deny Boris Johnson Briefed Editors With Cummings Leak Claims

The briefing to newspapers has sparked a war between the prime minister and his former top adviser.

Downing Street has refused to deny that Boris Johnson personally told newspaper editors that Dominic Cummings was to blame for leaking against him.

The Telegraph, The Sun and The Times on Thursday all reported comments from a No.10 source that Cummings was “engaged in systematic leaking” of the prime minister’s controversial texts with James Dyson and Saudi prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

The extraordinary coordinated briefing, which appeared online at 10.15pm on Thursday night, also suggested Johnson was “saddened about what Dom is doing” and suggested he was “bitter” about his departure as a senior adviser from No.10.

In response, Cummings launched an extraordinary public attack on his former boss, accusing the PM of seeking to block the so-called “chatty rat” inquiry into who leaked plans for a second lockdown in England after learning that a close friend of his fiancee Carrie Symonds had been implicated.

He also denied leaking the PM’s private texts with Dyson and said he warned Johnson against plans to have donors secretly pay for refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, saying they were “unethical, foolish (and) possibly illegal”.

Asked if Johnson discussed the “chatty rat” inquiry with newspaper editors last week, the PM’s official spokesperson said: “I think that’s another way to get me to comment on the leak inquiry which as I’ve said I’m not going to be doing.”

WPA Pool via Getty Images
Prime minister Boris Johnson during one of his weekly audience's with the Queen

Put to the spokesperson that they were not denying the fact the prime minister briefed newspaper editors, they replied: “I’m not going to be drawn on the inquiry at this stage.”

Asked again if Johnson spoke to editors, they replied: “There’s been a great deal of speculation over the weekend in relation to the leaks, and I’m not planning to be drawn on this.”

Put to the spokesperson that they were not denying that the PM briefed editors, they said: “I’m not going to add anything to that.”

Asked if Johnson would be declaring any conversations with newspaper editors, they replied: “I’m not across the exact rules as relates to that but all I can say is that the prime minister will abide by and does abide by all rules in terms of declaring interests and transparency returns, and that sort of thing.”

The PM has since been forced to deny separate claims that he said he was prepared to let “bodies pile high” rather than order a second Covid lockdown in autumn.

Meanwhile, the UK’s most senior civil servant is expected to say the chatty rat inquiry is still “live” and that Cummings himself has not been cleared of leaking the details of that lockdown.

The PM has also denied Cummings’ claims that he blocked the inquiry to protect Symonds’ friend, the government adviser Henry Newman, from being identified as the leaker.

But speaking to reporters in Wrexham on Monday, Johnson did not deny discussing using donations to fund the Downing Street flat refurbishment.

Asked if he had ever discussed using donors to fund the work, he said: “If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will, of course, be made in due course.”