Tories try to get conference back on track after storm over PM’s private life

The Conservatives will hope to get their party conference back on track after a storm over the Prime Minister's private life overshadowed the first day.

As the party faithful gathered in Manchester, Downing Street was forced to deny claims Boris Johnson squeezed the thigh of a female journalist under the table during a private lunch.

Charlotte Edwardes said the incident took place at the offices of The Spectator magazine in London shortly after Mr Johnson became editor in 1999.

After the lunch, she said she had confided in the young woman who was sitting on the other side of Mr Johnson, who told her: "Oh God, he did exactly the same to me."

A Number 10 spokesman said: "This allegation is untrue."

Separately, the Prime Minister had to insist there was "no interest to declare" amid a storm over his association with the American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri when he was mayor of London.

At the conference on Monday, Chancellor Sajid Javid will set out plans for an "infrastructure revolution" which will bring new investments in roads, buses and broadband.

He will use a speech to the conference to outline the first projects that will be included in the promised road investment strategy, a £5 billion package to support the roll-out of broadband and a £220 million fund for buses.

Meanwhile, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick will set out plans to cut red tape which could help homeowners looking to extend and small developers building new properties.

And Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey will announce that new apps aimed at helping young people find work are to be trialled as part of a multimillion-pound employment initiative.

The party will hope the announcements take attention away from the reports on Mr Johnson's private life.

On Sunday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said he knows Ms Edwardes well, said he believed her to be trustworthy, adding: "I entirely trust what she has to say."

Asked if he believed her claims, he said: "I know her and I know her to be trustworthy."

Former work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd has since said in a tweet "I agree with @MattHancock".

Writing her first column for The Sunday Times, Ms Edwardes said: "I'm seated on Johnson's right; on his left is a young woman I know.

"More wine is poured; more wine is drunk. Under the table I feel Johnson's hand on my thigh. He gives it a squeeze.

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

Labour's shadow secretary for women and equalities Dawn Butler said it was a "shocking but sadly all too familiar story".

"What is it about powerful men feeling entitled to harass women? Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer," she tweeted.

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