Boris Johnson in Downing Street. (Photo: Frank Augstein via PA Wire/PA Images)
Boris Johnson has defended meeting a former KGB agent at an Italian villa without any government officials present.
The prime minister said no official business was discussed “as far as I am aware” when he met Alexander Lebedev in 2018, when he was foreign secretary.
Johnson admitted the meeting took place while appearing in front of the liaison committee earlier this month.
In a letter to Sir Bernard Jenkin, the committee’s chairman, giving more details on the visit, he said he had been attending a “social event” organised by Evgeny Lebedev at his home in Italy.
At the time, the Lebedevs owned the Evening Standard and the Independent newspapers.
The PM said: “At this social event, I also met Evgeny Lebedev’s father. This was not a formal meeting, nor something that was pre-arranged.”
He said his officials were “aware in advance” about the event and it was not unusual for them not to accompany him.
He said: “Contrary to some reports, my visit was in line with established security protocols under successive foreign secretaries.
“It would not have been normal practice for civil servants or security staff to have accompanied me to such a private, social occasion. I did not take ministerial papers with me.”
Johnson said if ministers discuss official business with an external organisation or individual without any officials present, they would be expected to inform them afterwards.
“This was not necessary in this case,” he said. “As far as I am aware, no government business was discussed.”
Johnson has also faced accusations that he ignored security concerns to give Evgeny Lebedev a peerage.
Asked about the allegations in March, he said: “That is simply incorrect. But what I can tell you is, it suits Putin’s agenda to try to characterise this as a struggle between the West and Russia.
“It suits his agenda to say that the UK, that we in Nato countries, are anti-Russia, European countries are now anti-Russian.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Keeping the British people safe should be a priority of government, but this web of murky relationships shows the Conservatives cannot be trusted with our national security.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.