The prime minister was asked if “everything was OK” in a TV interview following his shambolic address.
And a Tory MP told The Independent that the PM’s demeanour during the speech – when he fell silent after losing his place and stumbled over words – “very worrying”.
“He seemed to have lost the plot,” said the MP. “He has obviously been under a great deal of stress for the last fortnight, and I think he needs a break. There’s only so much one human being can stand.”
Asked whether Mr Johnson was suffering from ill health or exhaustion, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The prime minister is well and he is focused on delivering for the public.”
And challenged over whether the prime minister has “got a grip”, the spokesperson replied simply: “Of course.”
The spokesperson played down the significance of the difficulties experienced by Mr Johnson during his address, pointing to the warm reception it had received in an official statement released later by CBI director general Tony Danker.
“The prime minister briefly lost his place in a speech,” the spokesperson said. “He has given hundreds of speeches. I don’t think it’s unusual for people on rare occasions to lose their place in a speech.” He added: “The prime minister is very much focused on delivering for the public.”
The spokesperson refused to be drawn on BBC reports of an anonymous “senior Downing Street source” saying that there was a “lot of concern inside the building” about the prime minister. BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg quoted the source as saying: “It’s just not working. Cabinet needs to wake up and demand serious changes otherwise it’ll keep getting worse. If they don’t insist, he just won’t do anything about it.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said he was not aware of any inquiry into the source of the anonymous quote, after speculation that it may have come from chancellor Rishi Sunak’s team in 11 Downing Street rather than from anyone in No 10.
“The prime minister, as you have seen from cabinet, is focused on the issues that we face as we come up to the winter months and delivering on important changes like social care,” said the spokesperson.
Asked whether Mr Johnson had a core group of ministers around him to offer advice, the spokesman said: “The prime minister has an entire cabinet to draw on who provide advice, as you would expect.”