Boris Johnson has been slammed as “unfit for office” after his call with President Vladimir Putin, over fears Russia plans to invade Ukraine, was cancelled as the prime minister was busy updating the House of Commons following the publication of Sue Gray’s partygate report.
The prime minister was due to speak to the Russian president at 4pm on Monday amid growing tensions between Moscow and Ukraine – something Mr Johnson has repeatedly said the UK most focus on rather than the allegations of rule breaking in Downing Street.
However, he was scheduled to address the Commons over the partygate report at 3.30pm.
But as he faces criticism over a “failure in leadership” in Downing Street – as outlined in Ms Gray’s report into allegations of lockdown-breaching gatherings at Number 10 – talks have been called off with no alternative date.
David Lammy MP, Labour’s Shadow Foreign Secretary, said: “Amid a dangerous crisis threatening peace in Europe, a vital diplomatic opportunity has been missed as Boris Johnson scrambles to hold on to his job.
“These are the real world consequences of a distracted prime minister unfit for office running a government in disarray.”
There are around 100,000 Russian troops amassed on the border with Ukraine, a move that has caused serious concern around the world that an invasion is imminent.
Mr Johnson said earlier on Monday he will warn President Putin to "step back from the brink."
The prime minister - who is set to visit the region on Tuesday - said any invasion of Ukraine will be "an absolute disaster for the world but above all it would be a disaster for Russia."
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said there had not been a “settled time” for the call.
He said: “It’s not unusual for timings with world leaders to change and you will appreciate the control of the timing for the receipt of this report rightly (was) with Sue Gray and her team, and the prime minister had committed to come to the House to make an update.”
Also on Monday, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss revealed in a Commons statement plans for a toughened sanctions regime that could be used to target senior figures linked to Vladimir Putin’s administration.
Meanwhile, the United States and Russia squared off on Monday at the UN Security Council in New York, where Moscow lost an attempt to block a public meeting on its troop build-up near Ukraine's borders.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield dismissed a charge by Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia that Washington was trying “to whip up hysterics” and use “megaphone diplomacy” by calling the first Security Council meeting on the crisis.
“Imagine how uncomfortable you would be if you had 100,000 troops on your border,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield said.
The vote on holding an open meeting passed 10-2, with Russia and China opposed, and three abstentions. The vote needed nine votes to be approved.
US President Joe Biden said in a statement that the meeting was “a critical step in rallying the world to speak out in one voice” to reject the use of force, seek military de-escalation, support diplomacy and demand accountability from every member “to refrain from military aggression against its neighbours.”
Russia denies it intends to launch an attack but demanded that NATO promise never to allow Ukraine to join the alliance, halt the deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders, and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe. NATO and the US call those demands impossible.