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01.10.2019 Europe

Britain's Boris Johnson tells kicks off Tory conference Brexit is going through

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
LISTEN OCT 1, 2019
REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

British Prime minister Boris Johnson has once again vowed to get Brexit done at this year's Tory party conference, but his message risks being drowned out by accusations of impropriety from a woman who says Johnson groped her two decades ago.

"His hand is high up my leg and he has enough inner flesh beneath his fingers to make me sit suddenly upright."

The statement is not from a racy Mills & Boons novel but the words of female journalist Charlotte Edwardes. She described to The Sunday Times how Johnson had squeezed her thigh during a boozy lunch at the offices of The Spectator magazine when he was editor there.

The British prime minister is known for his colourful love life but the accusation by Edwardes has unleashed a scent of scandal at the Tory party conference in Manchester, and risks scuppering Johnson's plans of uniting the Conservatives behind him on Brexit.

Johnson never comments on his personal life but his spokesman issued a clear denial -- an acknowledgement that the claim is more serious than gossip about his affairs.

It follows accusations that Johnson gave special access to a US businesswoman with whom he is alleged to have had a relationship when he was mayor of London.

Poor ratings with women
Downing Street said Edwardes' claim was "untrue", and the prime minister himself denied it in a television interview, while refusing to comment further.

But health minister Matt Hancock said he knew Edwardes well, and "I entirely trust what she has to say".

There are concerns that the latest claims could damage Johnson's standing with women, who are already less likely to support him.

A YouGov survey this week found 44 percent of men thought Johnson was likeable, compared to 34 percent of women.

Brexit first
Still, for many in Manchester, the biggest issue remains Brexit. Moreover, Johnson's determination to leave the European Union “do or die” on 31 October 31 is music to the ears of Tory activists, regardless of the truth.

“The best way to end this is to get Brexit done on 31 October and move the country forwards,” Johnson said. “And that is what we are going to do.”

"We need to get somebody to get Brexit done," Margaret Dane, a retired Tory party member, told AFP.

As for the 'thigh squeeze' claim, she added: "I'll just have to discount the fact that it might be the truth."

Others dismissed it as yet another story "dredged up" to discredit the prime minister.

"It should be looked into. But so much is coming out, I think people are getting immune to it," said 48-year-old councillor Julian Goodrich.

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