17 November 2021

Boris Johnson grilled by MP who accused his father of smacking her backside

17 November 2021

Boris Johnson has been questioned about harassment as he faced a Conservative MP who has accused his father of inappropriately touching her.

Mr Johnson was asked by Caroline Nokes at a meeting of the Commons Liaison Committee if making public sexual harassment a specific crime could give women more confidence to come forward.

Ms Nokes, chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, accused Stanley Johnson of forcefully smacking her on the backside and making a vulgar comment at the Conservative Party conference in 2003, ahead of him running to be a Tory MP.

Stanley Johnson (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

The allegation prompted New Statesman journalist Ailbhe Rea to say she was “groped” by the Prime Minister’s father at the party conference in 2019.

The 81-year-old says has “no recollection” of either incident.

Ms Nokes said to the Prime Minister at Wednesday’s committee meeting: “You are right to focus on the efforts that are going into increased rape prosecutions, but one of the real challenges is the way women don’t feel confident to come forward and report incidents.

“Isn’t it fair to say that if public sexual harassment was a specific crime that they could point at, that the police could point at, and indeed that the Crown Prosecution Service could point at, you actually might see women with more confidence to come forward?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I think that all women should have the confidence to come forward and denounce the harassment or crime against them that they have experienced, and there are proper procedures for those claims and those complaints to be investigated.”

Boris Johnson (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)

The Prime Minister told the committee there should be a focus on tackling existing crimes involving violence against women, rather than seeking to “expand the sphere of activity that we criminalise”.

“We have quite a lot of statute of one kind or another against serious assault, sexual violence, rape… and harassment,” he said.

“The tragedy at the moment is we are not… enforcing these enough as it is. I have to think about how, really, to tackle the crimes that the public want tackled, rather than widening the range of human conduct that we ask the police to criminalise and enforce against.

“What I want to see is proper enforcement of the existing law and… much more prosecution for those who are accused of rape. And at the moment that is where the numbers are going wrong.”

Mr Johnson said there was “evidence to support” the existence of a “ladder of offending” when it comes to violence against women and girls.

I would have probably slapped him, which arguably isn’t a better response either, but it would’ve been an instinctive response

Asked if this meant there should be a plan to “intervene earlier” before “those who are harassing women become sex offenders”, Mr Johnson said: “I think that what we need to do is rather than expand the sphere of activity that we criminalise, we need to prosecute people more effectively and more successfully for things that are already criminal.

“And there is an abundance of statute that is not now being properly enforced. And that’s what we’re putting our investment into.”

A Cabinet minister said on Wednesday that she “would have probably slapped” Stanley Johnson if he touched her in the way alleged by Ms Nokes.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the International Trade Secretary, said women had for too long had to deal with “casual sexism, the wandering hand”, but it was unclear whether the Tory party would investigate the allegations against the Prime Minister’s father.

Ms Trevelyan told Sky News: “I will leave Caroline to work with the party on that but we have a robust system in place and I hope very much she’ll be able to work that through with the party machine.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Leon Neal/PA) (PA Wire)

“But more widely, this is something that all of us who are women, not only in political life but in all sorts of life, have for far too long had to tolerate the sort of casual sexism, the wandering hand, that is completely unacceptable.”

Asked what she would have done in response to the alleged touching, she said: “At the time, I would have probably slapped him, which arguably isn’t a better response either, but it would’ve been an instinctive response from me and I think Caroline would’ve shown great personal restraint if she quietly moved away.”

Ms Nokes suggested the Prime Minister’s father inappropriately touched her during the 2003 party conference in Blackpool.

At the time, she was preparing to campaign to represent the Hampshire constituency of Romsey during the 2005 election, during which Stanley Johnson ran for Teignbridge in Devon.

“I can remember a really prominent man smacking me on the backside about as hard as he could and going, ‘Oh, Romsey, you’ve got a lovely seat’,” Ms Nokes told Sky News.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for an investigation either by the Tories or the police.

Stanley Johnson told the Sun: “I have no recollection of Caroline Nokes, and no idea what she was talking about.

“Had I been asked about the allegation made by the journalist of the New Statesman, I would have said the same thing.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox