Boris Johnson has been urged by senior Tories to explain what happened in his row with partner Carrie Symonds as it risks becoming a “distraction” in the Tory leadership race.
Brexit-supporting cabinet minister Liam Fox appeared to criticise Johnson’s refusal to answer questions about the argument which prompted neighbours to call police to Symonds’ home.
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind also urged the frontrunner in the battle to become prime minister to explain what happened or arouse suspicions that he was hiding something.
And Johnson’s leadership rival Jeremy Hunt told Sky News: “I think someone who wants to be prime minister should answer questions on everything.”
The Guardian newspaper said it had heard a recording of the incident in which Johnson could allegedly be heard saying “get off my f****** laptop” before a loud crashing noise.
At one point Symonds was heard telling Johnson to “get off me” and “get out of my flat”, the newspaper reported, while other neighbours said they heard screaming and banging coming from the property.
The revelations are threatening to derail Johnson’s campaign, which previously looked almost unstoppable.
Two polls for the Mail on Sunday suggested Johnson’s lead over Hunt among Conservative voters who will select the next leader and PM had been cut from 27 points to 11, while in the country as a whole Mr Hunt was ahead on 32% with Mr Johnson on 29%.
At a hustings of Tory members in Birmingham on Saturday, Johnson refused to elaborate on the police visit in the early hours of Friday morning.
But Fox, who is supporting Jonhson’s rival Jeremy Hunt’s leadership bid, told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “It’s always easier to just give an explanation and move on.
“And the key thing is how you get on to the issues.
“What we can’t have is it being a distraction from explanations about wider policy.”
Fox did however dismiss concerns that Johnson might be a security risk because his private life could leave him vulnerable to blackmail.
It came after the Sunday Times reported that senior cabinet minister told a colleague there was a “danger that people leak what they have over him or blackmail him with it”.
Fox said: “Boris has been the foreign secretary who has been in charge of MI6 for example.
“Do you think Theresa May would have made him foreign secretary if there had been genuine worries about him being a security risk?”
Sir Malcolm, who has also indicated he is backing Hunt in the race, urged Johnson to explain what happened.
“You don’t just say ‘no comment’. That implies you may have something you don’t want to disclose”
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “If you are a candidate to be prime minister and the police have been called to your house - fairly or unfairly - the fact is there was a police visit. You don’t just say ‘no comment’.
“That implies you may have something you don’t want to disclose.”
Sir Malcolm went on: “It was a lack of judgment to refuse to even make a short comment. All he could have said, quite reasonably, would have been that in all relationships there are occasionally outbursts of anger and disagreement.”
The former foreign secretary rejected a suggestion that Johnson should be allowed to draw a distinction between his private and public life.
“I’m sorry, you don’t have that sort of private life if you’re asking people to choose you to be their prime minister,” Sir Malcolm said.
“Of course there are certain things that are utterly personal, but it’s rather like Michael Gove being asked if he took cocaine.”
Labour’s shadow communities secretary Andrew Gwynne said Johnson was “completely unsuitable” to be prime minister.
He told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “In one sense, of course, it is a private matter, but when you’re running for public office, when you are wanting to be the prime minister of the UK, then these matters are in the public interest.
“I’ve long held the view that Boris Johnson is unsuitable to be prime minister of this country. I’ve had my run-ins with Boris, I, infamously, was almost tackled to the ground in the 2017 general election by this man.
“I just think his record throughout his time both as mayor of London - wasting money on the garden bridge, wasting money on Routemaster buses, wasting money on water cannon that couldn’t be used - through to his disastrous tenure as foreign secretary just renders him completely, I think, unsuitable to be the prime minister of our great country.”