Number 10 has defended the prime minister’s father meeting the Chinese ambassador to discuss the coronavirus outbreak, amid criticism from Beijing the prime minister has not offered a personal message of support following the outbreak.
Stanley Johnson met the Chinese ambassador in London, Liu Xiaoming, on Tuesday. Afterwards he sent an email to environment minister Zac Goldsmith and others relaying concern from Chinese officials who said they were yet to hear from the prime minister after the outbreak.
He later told The Daily Telegraph that the BBC had “got hold of an email by accident because the name of the person in the BBC who got it happened to be the same name as the person I was addressing in the department for the Environment”.
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Johnson said he had also raised the possibility of his son visiting China in October for an international conference on biodiversity, COP 15, due to be held in Kunming.
A spokesman for the prime minister said Stanley Johnson “is a private citizen and was not acting for the government in an official, or unofficial, capacity” and “privately, Downing Street is relaxed about Johnson senior’s behaviour” says The Independent, with one source arguing it was not surprising that such “a well-known environmental campaigner” should meet with international governments or organisations.
Yet the spokesman also faced difficult questions about whether the prime minister’s father was using his son’s name to “gain access” in China, and “there will be anxiety in some quarters at the prospect of Stanley Johnson acting as an unofficial conduit for London-based ambassadors trying to gain the ear of his son”, says The Guardian.
“Johnson Sr, a passionate environmentalist, is bound to give fatherly advice but he is not famously discreet and may not be the Foreign Office’s first choice as a message carrier into No 10”, says the paper.
The Daily Mail says the use of private email accounts to discuss matters relating to government business is also “likely to spark security concerns”.��
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