Boris Johnson defends ‘rolling out the red carpet’ for right-wing Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orbán

Downing Street claims cosying up to far-right leader is ‘vital to the UK’s prosperity and security’

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Friday 28 May 2021 17:16
Comments
Boris Johnson meets controversial leader of Hungary

Downing Street has defended Boris Johnson's decision to “roll out the red carpet” for right-wing autocrat Viktor Orbán.

Hungary's authoritarian leader is to visit Downing Street on Friday for talks with the prime minister – one of the first EU leaders to visit since Brexit.

But the visit has been criticised by human rights groups, as well as Jewish and Muslim MPs, who questioned whether he was an appropriate guest of honour, given his targeting and scapegoating of minorities.

At the helm of his far-right Fidesz party, Mr Orbán has centralised power in Hungary around himself and his allies, cracking down on civil society and monopolising the media.

His government has also been accused of running antisemitic and Islamophobic hate campaigns, notably against Jewish philanthropist George Soros.

Mr Orbán himself has decried “Muslim invaders”, described migrants as “a poison”, and said he wants to end liberal democracy.

In 2018, Mr Orbán said his party had “replaced a shipwrecked liberal democracy with a 21st-century Christian democracy” in Hungary.

The passing of unlimited laws allowing him to rule by decree at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic has led human rights groups to question whether Hungary remains a democracy at all.

Labour MP Alex Sobel said: “Viktor Orbán is a renowned antisemite, fuelled violence against the Roma, clamps down on the LGBT and Muslim Communities.

“He suppresses basic democratic norms and press freedom. However Boris Johnson is rolling out the red carpet. MPs of all parties should be calling this out.”

Naz Shah, Labour’s shadow minister for community cohesion, described the development as “extremely worrying”, while shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said: “Tomorrow Johnson welcomes Viktor Orbán to Downing Street, a leader who has attacked press freedom and democracy, called refugees ‘Muslim invaders’ and is a cheerleader for Putin and Lukashenko. What are the chances he’ll be challenged on any of this?”

Asked about the visit by journalists in Westminster on Thursday, Boris Johnson's official spokesperson said: “As president of the Visegrád group of central European nations later this year, co-operation with Hungary is vital to the UK’s prosperity and security. It will be a moment to promote UK interests in the area and discuss wider issues.”

The spokesperson declined to say whether Mr Johnson would raise human rights issues.

But asked about the PM’s view of Orbán’s comments about “Muslim invasions” and migrants being “poison”, the spokesperson said: “On all human rights issues we do not shy away from raising them. The PM has condemned those specific comments, which were divisive and wrong.”

Last year Mr Orbán praised Mr Johnson as “one of the bravest European politicians”. In 2018 UK Conservative members of the European Parliament were criticised for standing almost alone among mainstream western European conservatives for refusing to censure Hungary over breaches of the rule of law.

The Hungarian prime minister was also one of the first leaders welcomed to No.10 by Theresa May.

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