UK PM faces new questions after phone number found online
London, United Kingdom: Revelations that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's personal mobile number has been circulating online for 15 years raised national security concerns Friday, amid a raft of probes into his conduct.
The phone number appeared on a press release from 2006 when Johnson was an opposition MP, and he was reportedly still using it this week.
When called on Friday, there was an automated message indicating that the phone was switched off. "Please try later, or send a text," the message said.
British ministers are issued a government phone for official business, and receive security briefings from intelligence agencies on protecting their communications.
Johnson's liberal sharing of his personal number with politicians, business tycoons and foreign leaders had already prompted Britain's top civil servant to urge him to change it, according to recent reports.
Downing Street did not deny those reports. It did not immediately comment on the latest revelation, first reported by the gossip website Popbitch late on Thursday.
It comes as Johnson is under scrutiny over a lavish makeover of his Downing Street flat and over text messages, he exchanged last year with both industrialist James Dyson and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Former national security adviser Peter Ricketts told the BBC that hostile states and criminal gangs could have access to Johnson's contact details.
It was an "elementary security precaution these days" for a leader to change their number, he said.
Rachel Hopkins, an MP with the main opposition Labour party, noted she had raised concerns about Johnson's number being in wide distribution at a parliamentary hearing this week.
That was "for obvious security and lobbying implications, but also the risk of blackmail", she said on Twitter.
But Victoria Atkins, a junior minister in the interior ministry, said the prime minister, "more than anyone, knows his responsibilities when it comes to national security".
Ahead of local elections next Thursday, Atkins told Times Radio that she believed the public was not "particularly interested" in the issue.
'Farrago of nonsense'
The ruling Conservatives were buoyed overnight by a new YouGov poll showing the party maintaining an 11-point gap over Labour, 44 percent to 33 percent, despite days of allegations over Johnson's flat refurbishment and allegations of sleaze and favoritism during the pandemic.
"Labour has focused much of its campaign on sleaze and it hasn't cut through. That doesn't mean to say it won't," YouGov director of political research Anthony Wells told The Times newspaper, which commissioned the poll.
"Boris Johnson was elected with people knowing he has said unfortunate things and used colorful language and led a colorful life. People didn't expect him to be the cleanest of the clean," he said.
Despite his strenuous denials, half of the respondents believed Johnson did make the reported comment that he would rather see "bodies pile high in their thousands" than impose a third coronavirus lockdown.
Johnson is also under pressure to explain who initially footed the bill for a reported £200,000 ($278,000, 230,000-euro) refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, in a scandal variously dubbed "wallpaper-gate" and "cash for curtains".
The Electoral Commission announced Wednesday it was opening an investigation into the issue, which could potentially involve the police, on top of two internal Downing Street probes.
Labour now wants the fourth investigation into the controversy, by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who can impose separate sanctions on individual MPs.
Commissioner Kathryn Stone said she would not reveal the names of any MPs under investigation until after next week's elections.
Johnson on Thursday called the row over his and fiancee Carrie Symonds' refurbishment a "farrago of nonsense".