Boris Johnson cancels summit with northern Tories and meets Ukrainian President Zelenskyy in Kyiv

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the PM's surprise visit to Kyiv to offer a major training operation he believes could “change the equation” against the Russian invasion

Boris Johnson has cancelled a meeting with northern Tories and flown to Kyiv for a summit with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The PM was expected to give a speech at a meeting of the Northern Research Group (NRG) in Doncaster but dropped out at the last minute without explanation.

Downing Street has now explained that his appearance at the NRG conference was cancelled so he could meet Ukraine's leader.

President Zelenskyy spoke of victory and building for the future as he met with Boris Johnson

In a statement, Number 10 said he "offered to launch a major training operation for Ukrainian forces, with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days".

No 10 said international partners would be invited to host the programme, if the offer is accepted by Ukraine.

Video shared by Ukrainian government showed Mr Zelenskyy welcoming the prime minister to his presidential palace with a “hi, Boris” as he arrived.

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine described Mr Johnson as a "good friend and ally" in a tweet, adding: “With Boris, we discussed the much-needed heavy weapons and air defence systems supplies, economic support for Ukraine, increasing sanctions pressure on RF.”

"Hi, Boris," says Zelenskyy as he welcomes the PM to Kyiv

Mr Johnson posted a photograph with himself and his Ukrainian counterpart on Twitter, along with the caption: "Mr President, Volodymyr, it is good to be in Kyiv again."

While in the Ukrainian capital the pair held a joint press conference, in which he paid tribute to the Ukrainian forces as he again pledged Britain’s support in their fight to drive out the Russian invaders.

Speaking alongside President Zelensky, the PM said the Ukrainians had inflicted heavy losses on the Russians.

“If Ukrainian troops are suffering then I have to tell you all the evidence is that Putin’s troops are under acute pressure themselves and they are taking heavy casualties,” he said.

How have Tory MPs in the north reacted to the PM's visit to Ukraine? ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana explains

Mr Johnson is clearly popular among the leadership in Ukraine but critics have accused him of using his close relationship with Mr Zelenskyy to distract from the intense political pressure he is under back home.

The PM's ethics adviser quit on Wednesday in protest and there are two by-elections next week in seats previously held by Tories before they resigned, which the Conservative Party is widely expected to lose.

Lord Geidt, his former independent adviser on ministerial standards, told the prime minister in a letter that he was “disappointed” that the prime minister did not give a fuller account over how paying the fixed penalty notice did not breach the code.

The pair held talks at Zelenskyy's presidential palace. Credit: AP

He resigned over a separate issue, saying he was asked to consider measures that “risk a deliberate and purposeful breach of the ministerial code".

“I can have no part in this”, Lord Geidt said in his resignation letter.

In a statement after his unannounced visit to Ukraine was revealed, Mr Johnson said: “My visit today, in the depths of this war, is to send a clear and simple message to the Ukrainian people: the UK is with you, and we will be with you until you ultimately prevail.

“As Ukrainian soldiers fire UK missiles in defence of your nation’s sovereignty, they do so also in defence of the very freedoms we take for granted.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace hit back at the PM's critics, rubbishing claims that the trip was used to distract from the political pressure Boris Johnson is under.

He dubbed the trip "necessary" in a string of Tweets, before going on to list all the reasons why the PM had not announced the trip prior to him arriving in Kyiv.

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“That is why I have offered President Zelenskyy a major new military training programme that could change the equation of this war –harnessing that most powerful of forces, the Ukrainian determination to win.

“Two months on from my last visit, the Ukrainian grit, determination and resilience is stronger than ever, and I know that unbreakable resolve will long outlive the vain ambitions of President Putin.”