No 10 legal threat to The New European

Insights into events of the first few days of November when Boris Johnson flew back from COP 26 to attend a Garrick Club dinner and subsequently decided to  order his MPs to tear up the parliamentary standards rulebook. – Owl

George Grylls, Political Reporter

Boris Johnson has denied he will take legal action over a “completely untrue” story that he joked about his marriage at a Garrick Club dinner.

The New European published a story alleging that he made a “callous jibe” at the gathering of former Daily Telegraph journalists after flying back in a private jet from the Cop26 summit.

The weekly newspaper, set up by pro-EU journalists after the 2016 EU referendum, said Johnson joked that he had “buyer’s remorse” about marrying Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant with their second child. One guest quoted by the paper said: “It was a remarkable thing to say and there were a number of raised eyebrows around the table.” No 10 called the claims completely untrue.

Matt Kelly, the editor-in-chief, said he had received two calls from No 10 threatening to sue him for libel if he ran the piece.

Kelly said in a statement he had a call at 10.30pm on Thursday from — he later found out — Jack Doyle, Johnson’s director of communications. “His opening gambit was ‘Boris Johnson is going to sue The New European for defamation,” Kelly said. “I made it clear that this was not a threat that troubled me greatly and we stood by our story. After a few minutes, the caller eventually told me, ‘You just crack on then, mate’ and put the phone down.

“I texted him, asking him to repeat his threat of legal action and to send across the Downing Street denial. I also asked him, twice, to identify himself, which he refused to do.”

He established the next day that the caller was Doyle. No 10 had to reply to questions about the reports after Kelly’s account. No 10 denied Johnson had joked about his marriage at the dinner. “The prime minister has been clear that he didn’t make those remarks and they are completely untrue,” No 10 said.

Johnson left the Garrick with Lord Moore of Etchingham, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph. Moore was a vocal defender of Owen Paterson, the former MP for North Shropshire, and raised the issue of the disgraced backbencher’s ban for paid lobbying at the dinner, according to some reports.

The next day Johnson ordered his MPs to tear up the parliamentary standards rulebook in a failed attempt to save the former minister. Paterson resigned amid the outcry.