The populist leader, who needs to show to a domestic audience that he still matters internationally, will only be the second EU leader to be hosted at Number 10 by Boris Johnson since the UK left the EU.

First published in May 2021.

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, has written a letter to Boris Johnson to “express (her) concern and urgent questions about the visit of Hungary’s Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, scheduled for tomorrow, Friday 28th May.”

“In hosting Victor Orbán, you have chosen to invite into Downing Street a far-right leader who has fanned the flames of racism and bigotry in his tenure as Prime Minister. His administration has particularly targeted Jewish people, Muslims, refugees and other minority groups. The instances of bigotry and state-sponsored hatred are too numerous to name in full,” she added.

Right-wing populist Viktor Orbán, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been Prime Minister of Hungary since 2010 and was also Prime Minister from 1998 to 2002. In 2016, he said that asylum seekers in Europe were “poison” and “not needed” during a press conference. In 2018, in an interview with German newspaper Bild, he described refugees as “Muslim invaders”.

Urging Boris Johnson to cancel his plan to welcome Mr Orbán to this country, Zarah Sultana wrote that the Hungarian PM “should instead be challenged for his long and shameful record, including his:

Viktor Orbán is a close ally of Vladimir Putin.

The Labour MP concluded: “At a time of rising antisemitism and Islamophobia, I am appalled that the British government seems happy to smile for the cameras with a man like this. I therefore request a reply outlining the challenges put to him and his replies.”

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To defend the visit of the Hungarian PM, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman 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.”

In the FT, however, the former UK Ambassador to the EU and to Washington Kim Darroch doesn’t agree: “I’m not sure Orbán is a massively useful ally on anything much, given his current standing in Europe and internationally.”

The visit of the populist leader is certainly more directed at a domestic audience to show that he still matters internationally.

Alexander Faludy goes further in Unherd: “The truth ... is that Orbán needs Johnson more than the other way round. The UK has left the EU, but the Tories remain important players in the ... ECR — the pan-continental grouping of Euro-sceptic parties. Since leaving the European People’s Party in March, Fidesz has been politically homeless and Orbán will be looking to forge new alliances.”

Will Boris Johnson challenge the Hungarian PM on his appalling track record?

On the specific comments made by Orbán in the past, Boris Johnson’s spokesman 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.”

Lisa Nandy, the Labour Shadow foreign secretary, said that Boris Johnson should urge his Hungarian counterpart to take “a robust stance towards the Lukashenko regime in Belarus and Putin’s Russia.

She tweeted: “Will Boris Johnson challenge the Hungarian PM on his appalling track record? I wouldn’t hold my breath. 

Going Further:

J.N. PAQUET, Author & Journalist, Editor of PMP Magazine.


[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 27 May 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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