The prime minister raised “significant concerns” about media freedoms and human rights with Viktor Orban, amid fierce criticism of his decision to meet the controversial Hungarian leader at No 10.
Boris Johnson spoke face to face with the right-wing populist Hungarian prime minister on Friday, in a move that was lambasted by opposition figures and anti-racism groups due to Orban’s views on migrants, alleged Islamophobia and for assaults on democracy and the freedom of the press.
Downing Street said Johnson on Friday brought up concerns about the domestic situation in Hungary, as well as “a number of foreign policy issues”, including Orban’s close links with Moscow.
Hungary caused tensions in the European Union when it bought and distributed considerable quantities of Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine Sputnik, in further signs Orban is looking east for allies.
In what appears to have been a bid to encourage Orban to change tack, Johnson urged his eastern European counterpart to “promote democracy and stability” during their discussions, rather than side with Russia, Belarus and China.
A divisive and authoritarian figure, Orban, who spoke to the media after his meeting in No 10, has been criticised for speaking about “Muslim invaders” and describing migrants as “a poison”.
The Eurosceptic, who has previously praised Johnson for delivering Brexit, is a close ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, and has twice blocked the EU from issuing statements condemning China for actions in Hong Kong.
Last year he pushed Brussels to lift sanctions on Belarus, where a Ryanair flight was diverted last week so authorities could arrest a prominent journalist who has been critical of the regime.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “The leaders discussed the importance of the UK and Hungary working together bilaterally to increase security and prosperity in our countries, and to address global challenges such as climate change.
“Hungary will take on the presidency of the Visegrad Group of Central European nations in July and the prime minister looked forward to the UK working more closely with the group in future.
“The prime minister raised his significant concerns about human rights in Hungary, including gender equality, LGBT rights and media freedom.
“The leaders also discussed a number of foreign policy issues including Russia, Belarus and China. The prime minister encouraged Hungary to use their influence to promote democracy and stability.”
Before the meeting took place, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng defended Johnson’s decision to welcome Orban to London, saying it would be “irresponsible” not to “build bilateral relations” after Brexit.
But opposition figures called into question the perception of Britain Johnson was looking to portray by attempting to woo Orban.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey, who wrote to the prime minister to outline 10 challenges he should have put to Orban, said: “When you decide to invite leaders of other countries to Downing Street, your choice matters.
“It sends a signal to our allies, to our partners, to people in Britain and around the world, of the UK’s values and commitments.
“We are therefore extremely concerned that you have chosen to invite prime minister Orban to Downing Street.
“Orban’s rule has been marked by a sustained assault on Hungarian democracy, on press freedom and on human rights.”
Supporters of Stand Up To Racism were due to protest outside Downing Street, with spokesman Weyman Bennett arguing Orban has been a “prominent spokesperson for the far right from a position of power as a prime minister of Hungary”.