Boris Johnson and Russian foreign minister in public row over referendum 'meddling'

Posted On: 
22nd December 2017

Boris Johnson had an extraordinary public spat with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov after he suggested the Kremlin had tried to fix the Brexit referendum. 

Boris Johnson looks downcast during today's press conference with Sergei Lavrov

The row broke out at a press conference after the pair held talks in Moscow.

In tense exchanges, Mr Lavrov accused his UK counterpart of "making up" allegations about Moscow using cyber-warfare to interfere in Western democracies.

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"Even Boris has said we didn't interfere in the Brexit referendum," he said.

Mr Johnson replied: "Not successfully." 

Mr Lavrov then said: "You've just made all this up."

In a speech last month, Theresa May claimed the Kremlin was using online propaganda and fake news to "sow discord" across the West.

She said: "We know what you're doing, and you will not succeed."

At today's press conference, Mr Lavrov said the UK was to blame for the poor relations between the two countries.

He said: "It’s no secret that our relations are at a low point and that’s not at our initiative. We’ve noticed you and other Western countries have your reasons for this and you prefer to speak about them publicly. We would prefer to discuss these issues directly, not in public through microphones.”

However, Mr Johnson said he was committed to solving the differences between the two governments, saying "we must not allow ourselves to be defined by these problems".

He said: "I am a Russophile, a committed Russophile. I took the trouble before becoming Foreign Secretary to station my ancestors around the world.  I have them in Germany, in France, all over the place, America, and of course here in Moscow as well. I am certain that I am the first that the Foreign Secretary in the history of my office to be called Boris – probably the last for some time, I would think. Be in no doubt that I want to see an improvement in the relations between our peoples.

"That in no way diminishes the difficulties that we currently have in our relationship at the moment. We have to work hard to address those difficulties. We have to find a way forward. We have to find a way forward and in the meantime what we want to do, as the UK and Russia, is to cooperate in those areas where we can to build that future. So thank you very much Sergei for generosity and your hospitality and for welcoming me and my team today."