The prime minister made a false accusation in the Commons two weeks ago that the Labour leader was more focused on prosecuting journalists rather than serial sex offender Jimmy Savile during his previous job as the director of the public prosecutions.
People from across the political spectrum, including those close to Johnson like chancellor Rishi Sunak and his then-aide Munira Mirza, were stunned by the remark and distanced themselves from the prime minister – Mirza even resigned.
The prime minister has stopped short of actually apologising for his smear and later claimed he was making a point about Starmer’s responsibility “for the organisation as a whole”.
Still, in what was perceived as a partial climbdown, the prime minister claimed: “I totally understand he had nothing to do personally with those decisions.”
Starmer then came forward on Monday and admitted that he had received death threats off the back of Johnson’s slur.
HuffPost UK understands far-right activist Tommy Robinson had shared the prime minister’s comments with his own supporters.
When questioned about the death threats, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “Any death threats to politicians are never acceptable.”
But, when Johnson himself was asked to respond by a TV reporter, he remained curiously tight-lipped and appeared to suppress a smile.
He was asked: “Do you feel responsible for [those death threats] and would you like to take the opportunity to apologise?”
“I’ve said more than enough about that issue. Thank you,” Johnson said before walking away.
His response was torn apart on social media.
Some referenced his new head of communications, Guto Harri, and suggested he should have prevented the prime minister from smiling during the interview.
Others just saw it as “true to form” for the prime minister and noted how he had been unsympathetic to the struggles faced by other MPs in the past.