Carrie Johnson says PM’s enemies are attacking her in ‘brutal campaign’

British prime minister's wife takes action to silence critics after Conservative Lord Ashcroft's claims

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's wife Carrie watches as he delivers his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester on October 6, 2021. PA
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Carrie Johnson has insisted she “plays no role in government” and has been made a target by “enemies” of her husband, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a “brutal briefing campaign”.

Ms Johnson, 33, issued a rare statement on Sunday evening after a Cabinet minister said she was coming under unprecedented scrutiny.

Her role in her husband’s premiership has been under the spotlight, and over the weekend a biography of the mother of two, by Tory Lord Ashcroft, was serialised in the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday, which sought to look at her alleged influence on Mr Johnson's decisions.

Mr Ashcroft, writing in the Mail, said his research had suggested her “behaviour is preventing him from leading Britain as effectively as the voters deserve”.

But allies have dismissed the criticism as sexist, and a representative for Ms Johnson said on Sunday: “Yet again Mrs Johnson has been targeted by a brutal briefing campaign against her by enemies of her husband.

“This is just the latest attempt by bitter ex-officials to discredit her. She is a private individual who plays no role in government.”

It has been claimed that Ms Johnson has been caught up in scandals involving her husband.

They include suggestions that she pushed for the luxury redecoration of the flat the couple share at No 11 Downing Street and was key in evacuating animals from the Nowzad charity in Kabul.

Downing Street has denied Mr and Ms Johnson had any involvement in the evacuation.

But Guto Harri, the newly appointed director of communications at Downing Street, last week told the BBC Newscast podcast that the episode “raises that other spectre that never goes away of who is influencing him, and we all know who’s being accused of doing so on this occasion, because she is an animal lover more than him, really”.

Asked if he was referring to Ms Johnson, he replied: “You said it, not me.”

Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s former chief aide, has made it clear he was no fan of Ms Johnson, and said she had wanted to “get rid” of him from Downing Street.

Mr Cummings claimed she was at one point “trying to change a whole bunch of different appointments at Number 10 and appoint her friends to particular jobs”.

But after his allies nicknamed Ms Johnson “Princess Nut Nut” in press briefings, David Cameron’s wife Samantha said the attacks were “sexist”.

“In my view, your husband or partner is the prime minister, they’re quite able to take decisions themselves. They have a huge team of advisers," she said.

“And so the idea that it’s the wife, that you’re somehow influencing them over and above what they think or what advice they’re getting from their team, I think it’s kind of demeaning, really, for the prime minister.”

This was echoed by Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, on Sunday.

“The reportage that somehow she’s got undue influence, I don’t think that’s true," Mr Kwarteng told Times Radio. "The Prime Minister has been in politics for 25 years and has a pretty strong set of ideas.”

But asked if there was an element of sexism in the treatment of Ms Johnson compared to spouses of former prime ministers, Mr Kwarteng replied: “I wouldn’t say that.

"But I do think it’s interesting when the spouse is someone in their 30s and has got open positions that are well known, people feel free to criticise. I think that’s interesting.

“I don’t think it’s sexist, I’m not going to go down the route of saying it’s sexist, but I’m saying her views are under scrutiny in a way that perhaps other prime ministers’ spouses weren’t.”

Journalist Sarah Vine, whose divorce from Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove was finalised last month after 20 years of marriage, said the focus on Ms Johnson was extremely sexist.

“The trouble is, it’s always the easiest thing to do to blame the woman and the truth is far more complicated than that," Ms Vine told the BBC.

“If Boris Johnson has given Carrie too much access or too much leeway, that’s sort of his fault. He is the person in charge. He is the prime minister.

“I know that the nickname Carrie Antoinette is witty and a good pun, and we all love a good pun, but I just don’t think her head deserves to be on the block in this way.

“Things have gone wrong and mistakes, terrible mistakes, have been made.

"All the partygate stuff, and I agree that all of that is completely unacceptable, but it’s not just her who must take responsibility for this. Ultimately, I think it’s Johnson and the way he’s run No 10.”

Vine said that from her experience it was “unbelievably damaging and difficult on a personal level” when a person was “filtered through the sort of toxic filter of politics and power, and then you’re made to look like something that you are actually, really, genuinely not”.

“The mental toll on her will be significant,” she said.

Labour MP Jess Phillips has previously called criticism of Ms Johnson “sexist” and “ageist”.

Ms Phillips said there had been briefings by “men who don’t like Carrie Symonds because they don’t have the influence they want to have”.

“I have literally seen no evidence in my day-to-day life that Carrie Symonds [has too much influence]. In some regards, maybe I’d like her to have more – she’s quite a feminist."

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Conservative MP Tracey Crouch has also spoken about how she disliked the way Ms Johnson had been portrayed as a Lady Macbeth figure.

While in Lord Ashcroft’s book, former cabinet minister John Whittingdale, for whom Ms Johnson previously worked, said the influence she was said to have was inaccurate.

“Yes, I’m sure Boris and Carrie discuss things in a way that previous spouses would not, because they were much less political,” Mr Whittingdale said.

“Samantha Cameron had little interest in politics. Philip May didn’t have a great knowledge of politics.

“This is the first time the PM’s wife has been a committed political activist and had knowledge and experience of working in politics, so of course it’s going to be talked about.

"But she’s very good. She advised me for 15 months so I know she’s good.

“Carrie gets a tough time. It upsets her and I feel sorry for her. It’s a pretty lonely existence. I think they’ve struggled. She doesn’t see as much of Boris as she’d like because he’s trying to run the country."

Updated: February 06, 2022, 11:24 PM