U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson battled to fend off allegations of improper patronage and groping a woman as he continues to fulfill his pledge to lead his country out of the European Union in just over a month — and, he hopes, move British politics beyond its fracture over Europe.
Johnson sought to energize Conservative members and lawmakers — weary after three years of Brexit gridlock — at the party's annual conference, but he was forced to deny a journalist's claim that he had grabbed her thigh at a private lunch two decades ago.
Sunday Times columnist Charlotte Edwardes said the incident took place when she worked at The Spectator, a conservative newsmagazine, while Johnson was its editor. Asked if the allegation was true, Johnson said: "No." Edwardes stood by her story, tweeting: "If the prime minister doesn't recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does."
Johnson also is under scrutiny for claims that an American businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri, received money and perks from London coffers while Johnson was mayor of the capital between 2008 and 2016. He denies any wrongdoing involving Arcuri, who was given grants and places on overseas trade trips for her small tech startup, saying everything was done "with full propriety."
Johnson, who took over as Conservative leader and prime minister from Theresa May two months ago, has vowed that Britain will leave the European Union on the scheduled date of Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal governing future relations with the bloc. His foes in Parliament — who include some longtime members of his own party — are determined to avoid a no-deal exit, which economists say would disrupt trade with the EU and plunge Britain into recession.