Boris Johnson’s spokesman has failed to deny claims that the prime minister told aides in Downing Street last year he would rather let coronavirus “rip” than impose a second lockdown.
According to The Times, the prime minister was said to have argued in September that there was no evidence lockdowns worked and described them as “mad”.
The newspaper reported that Mr Johnson repeatedly said he would rather “let it (coronavirus) rip” during this period than implement another lockdown, due to the harm to businesses and people’s livelihoods.
The fresh allegations about the prime minister’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis come a day after Mr Johnson was forced to publicly deny he said in October that he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose another lockdown.
Both the prime minister and Number 10 were forthright in their denial of those remarks, which were published by the Daily Mail on Monday and later corroborated by the BBC.
But, on Tuesday, Downing Street was less clear about the report in The Times.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “I have seen the various reports and speculation which distort the actions of the prime minister.
“At all times he has been focused on saving lives and livelihoods.”
Asked a further two times, the spokesman did not offer a denial.
Since March 2020’s first lockdown, Mr Johnson has imposed two more national shutdowns in England – a month-long period in November, which saw schools stay open, and one in January this year, when ministers highlighted the impact of the Kent variant of the virus.
The allegations about Mr Johnson’s comments during his handling of the COVID crisis come amid a bitter feud between Downing Street and the prime minister’s former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.
Last week, Number 10 “sources” were quoted in newspapers as blaming Mr Cummings for recent leaks about the prime minister’s private conversations.
But Mr Cummings hit back and denied “false accusations”.
He went on to make a series of explosive claims in a 1,000-word blog post about Mr Johnson, in which he also questioned the prime minister’s “competence and integrity”.
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Among the allegations published by Mr Cummings were claims the prime minister devised a plan to have donors “secretly pay for the renovation” of his Downing Street flat.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner on Tuesday wrote to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to ask whether Mr Johnson’s former press secretary, Allegra Stratton, last month “knowingly misled journalists and the public, or was misled herself by senior members of the government”.
It comes after Ms Stratton told reporters last month that Conservative Party funds “are not being used” to pay for the refurbishment of the prime minister’s flat.
But both Number 10 and the Conservative Party have since not denied reports that the Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) paid the Cabinet Office to cover initial costs of the works.
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