Boris Johnson refuses to back WHO chief after US claims China 'bought' his election

Prime minister’s spokesman also declines to dispute Mike Pompeo's allegation that election of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was 'rigged'

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 22 July 2020 15:48 BST
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, informs the media about the last updates regarding on the novel coronavirus COVID-19
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, informs the media about the last updates regarding on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 (EPA)

Boris Johnson has refused to back the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) after Washington claimed he had been “bought” by China.

The prime minister’s spokesman also swerved a question about whether the UK believed the election of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had been “rigged” – as alleged by Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state.

Instead, he said the government was pushing for “reform” of the WHO, although – unlike Donald Trump – not withdrawing funding.

No 10 was asked for its stance after Mr Pompeo’s explosive claims that the organisation is responsible for “dead Britons” because of its failures over coronavirus and is “political, not science-based”.

The comments are widely seen as an attempted smokescreen for the US’s own blunders in response to Covid-19, which have led to the world’s highest death toll.

Asked if Mr Johnson has “full confidence” in Dr Tedros, his spokesman said only: “The prime minister believes the WHO and its director general are playing an important role in leading the global health response to the pandemic.

“But, as I said, the UK continues to be an advocate of reform in WHO to be sure it can respond as quickly as possible to global health emergencies.”

Mr Pompeo’s outburst came at an event hosted by the Henry Jackson Society, foreign policy think tank, on Tuesday, according to multiple sources present.

It was the latest in a string of attacks by the Trump administration, which has branded the organisation a “puppet of China” and of letting the crisis spin “out of control” at the cost of many lives.

However, it was the first time that Mr Pompeo is known to have suggested the director-general had been “bought” by Beijing, as The Times reported.

He is understood to have implied that Dr Tedros’s election to the role in 2017 led to “dead Britons”, because its leader failed to force China.

One Labour MP who was present, Chris Bryant, said afterwards: “In my heart, I wanted to say that a lot of Americans were dead because of Donald Trump’s lies about the virus.”

Mr Pompeo’s comments came after he and Dominic Raab held talks on “shared global security and foreign policy issues, including China’s actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang,” where there is alleged abuse of the Uighur Muslims.

They also discussed the importance of the Five Eyes alliance, the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, “working together on the technologies of the future” - a reference to ending the reliance on Huawei and other Chinese tech firms.

Mr Raab, the foreign secretary, insisted the UK government would not be pushed into a tougher position by Washington.

“I don’t think there is any question of strong-arming – Mike and I always have constructive discussions,” he said at a press conference.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in