UK Politics

Boris Johnson's father spoke to Chinese ambassador about coronavirus

Stanley Johnson Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The PM's father, Stanley Johnson, held a meeting with the Chinese Ambassador

Chinese officials were "concerned" Boris Johnson did not send a personal message of support after the coronavirus outbreak, emails suggest.

The PM's father, Stanley Johnson, met Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming and emailed his worries to UK officials - accidentally copying in the BBC.

Mr Liu told him the prime minister had not yet directly contacted the Chinese.

A government spokesman said the UK had been in close contact with the Chinese authorities since the outbreak.

Sources also stressed Stanley Johnson was not acting on behalf or at the request of the British government.

Stanley Johnson held a 90-minute meeting with Mr Liu on Tuesday.

Mr Johnson, a longstanding environmental campaigner, was invited to the Chinese embassy to discuss summits on the topic, due to take place this autumn in China and the UK.

Shortly after the meeting, the PM's father used his personal email address to share an account of the discussion with the environment minister Lord Goldsmith and other UK officials.

He wrote: "Re the outbreak of coronavirus, Mr Liu obviously was concerned that there had not yet - so he asserted - been direct contact between the PM and Chinese head of state or government in terms of a personal message or telephone call."

'Extremely useful'

Stanley Johnson also revealed he had raised the possibility of his son visiting China in October to attend an international conference on biodiversity, COP15, which will be held in Kunming.

Lord Goldsmith wrote a reply from his personal email address, saying: "Thank you so much Stanley. That is extremely useful."

No one in the exchange appeared to have noticed the BBC was copied in until it was raised with them.

After being informed of his mistake, Mr Johnson said: "I was copying in someone who happened to have the same name as a lady at the BBC. These things happen."

Mr Liu shared pictures of him and Stanley Johnson on Twitter, saying they had met to exchange views on the COP15 meeting and the COP26 meeting on climate change, to be hosted in Glasgow.

He added: "These two conferences are great opportunities to promote international cooperation on environmental protection & climate change."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Chinese city of Wuhan is under quarantine following the coronavirus outbreak

The World Health Organization says the coronavirus, which has spread to more than 20 countries, including the UK, does not yet qualify as a "pandemic".

But the UK government is recommending that British citizens in China leave the country to minimise exposure to it.

At a press conference in London, Mr Liu warned against "panic" and "over-reaction".

He added: "We would advise the British side to take the advice of the WHO... They [the UK government] recognise the effectiveness of the measures taken by China. They also tell us they will follow the WHO's advice."

Mr Liu also said the UK government's words were "not entirely square" with the facts and that it should take an "objective, cool-headed view of what is happening".

The "channel of communication" between the Chinese and UK governments remained "very open", he added.

A UK government spokesman said: "The government has been in close contact with the Chinese authorities since the start of the outbreak."

The foreign secretary and national security adviser had spoken to their counterparts in the past week, the spokesman added.

"The UK has provided medical supplies to help China tackle the outbreak and together we have facilitated the repatriation of British nationals and their dependants from Wuhan," he said.

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