Boris Johnson visits President Zelensky in Ukraine as Labour calls for 'urgent investigation' into BBC claims

22 January 2023, 20:55 | Updated: 22 January 2023, 21:00

Boris Johnson visited Kyiv at Zelensky's invitation, the ex-PM said
Boris Johnson visited Kyiv at Zelensky's invitation, the ex-PM said. Picture: Getty

By Adam Solomons

Boris Johnson met with Ukrainian President Zelensky amid claims he recommended the BBC chairman for the job after being guaranteed an £800,000 loan.

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Mr Johnson's said his visit, which was first reported in January, was a "privilege" and at the invitation of Mr Zelensky.

Former PM Johnson faces new questions about his personal finances, with Labour calling for an "urgent investigation" into claims in The Sunday Times that he nominated Richard Sharp for the BBC's chairmanship within weeks of Mr Sharp helping guarantee a personal loan.

Rishi Sunak insisted he is “supportive” of his predecessor's visit after claims it could undermine the Prime Minister’s authority.

Johnson was Nato's most steadfast supporter of Ukraine, making Britain Kyiv's only Western ally to send tanks since the Russian invasion began last February.

Read more: Labour calls for probe into claim Johnson recommended friend for top BBC job soon after he helped ex-PM secure loan

Read more: Boris Johnson considers starting organisation to support Ukraine as he eyes a new career on the international stage

Johnson met with Zelensky at the presidential palace in Kyiv
Johnson met with Zelensky at the presidential palace in Kyiv. Picture: Ukraine Presidency

Footage showed Mr Johnson meeting the Ukrainian president, warmly shaking hands and telling him “it’s an absolute honour to be here again”.

“Honour for us,” Mr Zelensky replied.

In a statement, Mr Johnson said: “It is a privilege to visit Ukraine at the invitation of President Zelensky.

“The suffering of the people of Ukraine has gone on for too long.

“The only way to end this war is for Ukraine to win – and to win as fast as possible. This is the moment to double down and to give the Ukrainians all the tools they need to finish the job.

“The sooner Putin fails, the better for Ukraine and for the whole world.”

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson added that he fully supports UK Government policy on Ukraine, including the recent decision to send Challenger 2 tanks.

His visit demonstrates solidarity with the people of Ukraine, they said.

Mr Sunak’s press secretary said he is “always supportive of all colleagues showing that the UK is behind Ukraine and will continue to support them”.

The ex-premier pitched himself as a key ally of Kyiv during his time in No 10, providing support and calling on Western allies to follow suit in the early days of Russia’s invasion last February.

As his scandal-plagued premiership unravelled, Mr Johnson was accused of using trips to Ukraine or phone calls with Mr Zelensky as a distraction for crises at home.

This trip comes as the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP is facing accusations that he allegedly recommended Richard Sharp for the BBC chairman job weeks after Mr Sharp helped him secure a loan of up to £800,000 while he was still in Downing Street.

Johnson stands alongside Zelensky on an official visit while PM last year
Johnson stands alongside Zelensky on an official visit while PM last year. Picture: Getty

As a former prime minister, Mr Johnson’s security protection for overseas trips is funded by UK taxpayers.

Asked who is stumping up for his trip, his spokesperson said they could not get into specifics “for security reasons”.

Commons defence select committee chairman Tobias Ellwood said Mr Johnson should “not interfere with the messaging or the official lines of communication” between London and Kyiv.

Mr Sunak has followed in the footsteps of Mr Johnson and Liz Truss in being a vocal supporter of Kyiv.

The Prime Minister visited Ukraine in November, pledging continued British support to the country in the fight against Moscow’s forces.

Earlier this week, Mr Johnson spoke in a panel discussion on Ukraine at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he was introduced as a “legendary figure” in Ukraine.

Mr Sunak, meanwhile, steered clear of the annual gathering in the exclusive Swiss ski resort.

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