Downing Street has denied claims that Boris Johnson squeezed the thigh of a female journalist under the table during a private lunch.

Charlotte Edwardes, the assistant editor of the Sunday Times, accused Mr Johnson of groping her inner thigh under the table during a private lunch 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."

But a Number 10 spokesman said: “This allegation is untrue.”

Ms Edwardes later said in response: "If the prime minister doesn't recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does."

At the time Ms Edwardes was a newspaper reporter who also wrote occasional pieces for the magazine, which Mr Johnson ran, making him effectively her boss. She said she was with his partner Marina Wheeler at the time.

The journalist made the allegation on the second anniversary of the Me Too movement.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson insists ‘no interest to declare’ over links with American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri

She said her usual reaction would have been to confront Johnson, but that she kept quiet because it was a work situation.

Ms Edwardes, 46,  did not give a precise date for the allegation, which she said took place at a routine, drunken lunch "in the late 1990s/early 2000s." Johnson was editor from 1999 to 2005.

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.

"My mother always said: 'Wear a badge to the cinema with which to stab the wandering hands.' But this is work, so I am silent."

Ms Edwardes would have been in her late twenties or early thirties at the time, while Johnson, she said, was in his late thirties.

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.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock played down the report saying there were "always lots of other stories in papers".

Speaking at a Tory party fringe event in Manchester hosted by HuffPostUK, he said: "Boris has never lectured other people about their private lives.

"I think that we should concentrate on delivering on what we are in politics for, which in my view is to serve the citizens of this country."

Female Conservative MPs have defended the Prime Minister over attacks on his character with one MP calling him a "feminist" at the party conference.

Rachel Maclean, Tory MP for Redditch, Worcestershire (below), said: "I absolutely judge the PM to be a feminist, if you look at his record and what he’s done for women.

"The original feminists talked about ‘deeds, not words’.And on that basis, I absolutely judge the Prime Minister to be a feminist."

HeraldScotland: Redditch MP Rachel Maclean

Flick Drummond, a former MP who lost her seat in 2017, said everyone was "out to get him", adding: "He’s out on the street and he’s like the Pied Piper, people follow him right down the street and they all want to meet him and shake his hand."

And a conference fringe event in Manchester, former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt said he was a "decent person" who "cares a great deal about women and girls", although he "occasionally has the style of Frank Spencer in a china shop".

It came as Mr Johnson was forced to deny any improper relationship with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri while he was London mayor.

And he later said he had "no interest to declare" regarding links with the US businesswoman, who it is alleged joined trade missions led by Mr Johnson when he was mayor of London and that her company received several thousand pounds in sponsorship grants.

The police watchdog are currently investigating whether a crime was committed.

READ MORE: Call in Scotland Yard if Johnson fails to co-operate with 'conflict of interest' probes, says MP

Mr Johnson has made a series of controversial comments about women and has been branded "sexist" in the House of Commons.

He is quoted as saying in the 2010 general election: "Voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW M3."

During the London Olympics in 2012, when he was serving mayor of London, he wrote: "There are semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalised by Canaletto.

"They are glistening like wet otters and the water is plashing off the brims of the spectators' sou'westers. The whole thing is magnificent and bonkers."

He apologised last year after referring to the shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, as “Lady Nugee”. The Speaker of the House of Commons said the references, in relation to Thornberry’s husband, Sir Christopher Nugee, were sexist and inappropriate.

In a farewell piece in the Spectator from 2005, marking his departure as editor, Johnson offered the following advice to his successor.

"Once the fire is going well, you may find your eyes drifting to the lovely striped chesterfield across the room. Is it the right size, you wonder, for a snooze. . . ?" he wrote. "You come round in a panic, to find a lustrous pair of black eyes staring down at you.

"Relax. It’s only Kimberly, with some helpful suggestions for boosting circulation. Just pat her on the bottom and send her on her way. Whatever you do, don’t get depressed if she starts saying ‘noos-stand is sawft this week, Booriss’ (she is American) or that she doesn’t like your cover.

"That’s her job, and if you put your back into yours you’ll find that news-stand has a way of gently recovering. "