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Mon, 6 April 2020

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Prime Minister's dad was acting as a 'private citizen' in talks with China, insists Number 10

Prime Minister's dad was acting as a 'private citizen' in talks with China, insists Number 10
3 min read

The Prime Minister's dad was acting as a "private citizen" during talks with China over the coronavirus, Downing Street has insisted.

Stanley Johnson provoked anger after using his personal email address to relay "concerns" about Boris Johnson's failure to issue a message of support to his Chinese counterparts over the deadly outbreak.

The PM's father had met with China's ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, to discuss environmental issues before emailing details of the conversation to government minister Lord Goldsmith and others.

But he mistakenly copied in someone at the BBC, which reported the contents of the email.

Mr Johnson 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."

Lord Goldsmith replied: "Thank you so much Stanley. That is extremely useful."

Asked about the embarrassing incident, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister insisted he had been acting as a "private citizen and was not acting for the Government in an official or unofficial capacity".

The spokesperson added: "We have been in close contact with the Chinese authorities from the beginning of the outbreak and Foreign Secretary and the National Security Adviser have both spoken to their counterparts in the past week."

Speaking after the gaffe, the PM's father told the Telegraph he had accidentally copied in the BBC journalist becuase they shared the same name as an intended recipient.

"I'm obviously sorry it got sent to the wrong person by my computer. So the moral of that story...," he told the paper.

But he added the Mr Xiaoming was a "very, very good and useful contact and I think the relationship between China and the UK as they move forward is going to be extremely important."

'Cool-headed view'

More than 28,300 cases of the novel coronavirus have been confirmed globally and 565 people have died. Only two cases of the disease have so-far been identified in the UK, but Foreign Office officials have already advised UK nationals to leave China if possible.

But speaking at a press conference on Thursday, Mr Liu hinted at growing tensions over the UK's response to the outbreak as he urged minister to adopt a "objective cool-headed view of what is going on in China".

"We advised the British side to take the professional advice of the World Health Organisation...and the British side seems to me the words do not match with these," the senior Chinese official said.

Asked about the government's travel advice for UK citizens, he added: "We don't think there should be such a panic. We don't think it is a good idea."

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