Cabinet minister Kwasi Kwarteng has denied that Carrie Johnson has “undue” influence at No 10, as details from Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft’s upcoming biography of the prime minister’s wife appear in the press.
According to details from the book published in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, Mr Johnson allegedly voiced frustration at the way his wife tried to exert influence over the running of No 10.
Downing Street has rejected claims contained within the book, while culture secretary Nadine Dorries condemned the attacks on Ms Johnson.
Mr Kwarteng said it was clear that Ms Johnson had “political views” – but dismissed the idea she had too much say at Downing Street.
“Carrie is a really strong supporter of the prime minister. She has political views, like many people, and she’s allowed to have those views,” the business secretary told Times Radio.
The minister added: “Contrary to what I’ve read about the Ashcroft book … the reportage is that somehow she has got undue influence – I don’t think that is true. The prime minister has been in politics for 25 years and has a pretty strong set of ideas.”
Asked if there was an element of sexism to questions over the extent of her influence, Mr Kwarteng said: “I wouldn’t say that. But it’s interesting that when the spouse is someone in their thirties and has got open positions that are well-known, people feel free to criticise them.”
Asked what he meant by “interesting”, the minister replied: “Well, I don’t think it’s sexist. I’m not going to go down the route of saying, ‘Oh well it’s sexist’. But her views are under scrutiny in a way that perhaps other prime minister’s spouses weren’t.”
Lord Ashcroft’s book First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson is set to be released next month as the PM fights to save his premiership amid the Partygate scandal.
A Downing Street has said the book contains claims which are untrue. Ms Dorries has also accused Mr Johnson’s opponents, including former No 10 staff, of trying to smear his wife in a bid to oust him.
The culture secretary said the claims had been made “by vengeful and mendacious men who were once employees in No 10 and is an insight into their warped minds.”
Lord Ashcroft responded: “Only a fraction of the book has been published so far. Taken as a whole, it is fair, objective and meticulously researched.”
Ms Johnson’s friend Henry Newman is reportedly set to leave No 10 as part of the shake-up in staff and operations, as the prime minister tries to convince backbenchers his premiership can be reset.