Kwarteng: Absolutely right for PM to meet with right-wing Hungary leader Orban

·3-min read

Boris Johnson’s decision to meet the controversial leader of Hungary in Downing Street has been defended by one of his senior ministers.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said leaders had to meet counterparts “whose values we don’t necessarily share”.

The Prime Minister met the right-wing populist Viktor Orban on Friday afternoon, in a move that has come in for criticism from opposition figures and human rights groups due to his views on migrants, alleged Islamophobia and for assaults on democracy and the freedom of the press.

Mr Orban, who spoke to the media after his meeting in No 10, has been criticised for remarks on “Muslim invaders” and describing migrants as “a poison”.

As well as stoking domestic tensions, the visit could also put under strain the UK’s relationship with the rest of the European Union.

Eurosceptic Mr Orban, who has previously praised Mr Johnson for delivering Brexit, is a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and has twice blocked the EU from issuing statements condemning China for actions in Hong Kong.

And, last year, he pushed Brussels to lift sanctions on Belarus, where a Ryanair flight was diverted last week so authorities could arrest a prominent journalist who has been critical of the regime.

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But Mr Kwarteng said it was “absolutely right” for Mr Johnson to “be building bilateral relations” after Brexit.

Addressing Mr Orban’s remarks on migrants being “a poison”, Mr Kwarteng told Sky News: “I think Viktor Orban’s views on migrants are things that I would not endorse in any way.

“Having said that, I think that we have to engage with the EU, he’s an EU leader.

“Hungary is an EU country, we were part of the EU. And in this post-Brexit world, I think it’s absolutely right for us to be building bilateral relations with countries in the former EU.

“I think it’s completely reasonable to do that, and not to do so I think would be irresponsible.

“So it’s a diplomatic relationship that we want to develop.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey had written to Mr Johnson to outline 10 challenges the Prime Minister should have put to Mr Orban during their discussions.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban visits UK
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban speaks to the media in Downing Street after his meeting with Boris Johnson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Sir Ed called on the Conservative Party leader to question the Hungarian prime minister on his links with Russia, his attempts to silence critical media outlets and for failing to hold “free” elections.

He said: “We are extremely concerned that you have chosen to invite Prime Minister Orban to Downing Street.

“Orban’s rule has been marked by a sustained assault on Hungarian democracy, on press freedom and on human rights.”

Labour shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, also called for the Prime Minister to “challenge the repeated attempts to undermine democratic values”.

No 10 on Thursday condemned as “divisive and wrong” comments made by Mr Orban ahead of his visit.

Mr Johnson has vowed not to shy away from bringing up issues surrounding human rights but Downing Street argued the meeting was “vital” to Britain’s interests.

“As president of the Visegrad group of Central European nations later this year, co-operation with Hungary is vital to the UK’s prosperity and security,” said the Prime Minister’s spokesman.

Supporters of Stand Up To Racism were due to protest outside Downing Street, with spokesman Weyman Bennett arguing Mr Orban has been a “prominent spokesperson for the far right from a position of power as a prime minister of Hungary”.

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