Business secretary walks out mid-interview after being asked about Johnson-Lebedev meeting

Kwasi Kwarteng walked out of an interview after being asked about Boris Johnson's meeting with ex-KGB agent Alexander Lebedev after the PM admitted meeting him while foreign secretary. Credit: PA

A senior Cabinet minister has refused to answer questions about Boris Johnson's meeting with an ex-KGB agent after the prime minister admitted meeting the Russian without officials while he was foreign secretary.

Mr Johnson has insisted the highly controversial meeting - which took place at the height of Salisbury poisoning affair - was not prearranged, but did not categorically deny discussing government business.

The outgoing prime minister said there was no need for security staff or civil servants to be present at the 2018 meeting, because he was attending a social event.

Mr Johnson, explaining the meeting with Mr Lebedev in a letter to the Commons Liaison Committee, said he had not taken ministerial papers with him.

But, on the critical topic of what they spoke about, Mr Johnson said: "As far as I am aware, no government business was discussed."

Alexander Lebedev is an ex-KGB agent. The KGB was the main security agency for the Soviet Union. Credit: AP

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said his statement "raises more questions than it answers" and "suggests the prime minister has something to hide".

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng refused to comment on the meeting when asked by ITV News and walked out mid-interview when pressed on the topic.

Political Correspondent Libby Wiener said Mr Johnson met a man "who was a former KGB agent, without officials, and he says as far as he's aware nothing relating to government business was discussed" and asked: "Is that good enough?"

The business secretary said: "I don't know about those details" but when the journalist asked for a direct response to Mr Johnson's letter, the minister walked away.

The PM's meeting with the Russian took place during an event at the home of the oligarch's son, Evgeny Lebedev, who is a friend of Mr Johnson, who owns the London Evening Standard and is a peer in the House of Lords.

Mr Johnson's move to make him a Lord is also controversial because the appointment was allegedly made despite concerns from UK security services about risks it could pose - something the PM has denied.

Mr Johnson attended it after a Nato summit to discuss how to deal with the Kremlin, following the Salisbury poisonings, which were carried out by two Russian agents.

The prime minister wrote to the Commons Liaison Committee with an explanation of the meeting after an in-appearance at the Committee where he admitted for the first time that it had taken place.

He said: "In April 2018, I attended a social event at the house of Evgeny Lebedev in Italy.

Boris Johnson is friends with Evgeny Lebedev. He's pictured with the Russian millionaire here in 2009. Credit: PA

"In the interests of transparency, I declared the overnight stay in the ministerial returns which can be found on At this social event, I also met Evgeny Lebedev's father. This was not a formal meeting, nor something that was pre-arranged.

"Officials were aware in advance that I was attending the social event. Contrary to some reports, my visit was in line with established security protocols under successive foreign secretaries.

"It would not have been normal practice for civil servants or security staff to have accompanied me to such a private, social occasion.

"I did not take ministerial papers with me. If a minister meets an external organisation or individual and finds themselves discussing official business without an official present, for example at a social occasion, any significant content should be passed back to the department after the event.

"That was not necessary in this case. As far as I am aware, no government business was discussed."

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