Boris Johnson’s father has said Chinese officials were concerned that the Prime Minister did not send a personal message of support to the country’s leaders after the coronavirus outbreak.
The comments came to light after Stanley Johnson accidentally included someone at the BBC in the list of officials he sent an email to after meeting Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming to discuss environmental matters.
Mr Johnson, who is a campaigner on environmental issues, said the BBC’s account of the contents of the email was correct.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson Snr is a private citizen and was not acting for the Government in any official or unofficial capacity.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said they were continuing to work “constructively” with the Chinese authorities on the issue.
The PM’s father sent the email to Environment Minister Lord (Zac) Goldsmith and other officials.
The BBC reported that Mr Johnson wrote: “Re the outbreak of coronavirus, Mr Liu obviously was concerned that there had not yet – so he asserted – been direct contact between the PM and Chinese head of state or government in terms of a personal message or telephone call.”
Thank you Mr. Stanley Johnson for expressing your sympathy and support to the Chinese people who are fighting the novel coronavirus. With the support of British friends, we have the confidence and capability to beat the virus! pic.twitter.com/lMz7nOAmoj— Liu Xiaoming (@AmbLiuXiaoMing) February 5, 2020
Mr Johnson told the PA news agency: “I merely reported. I think I said in my short note the Chinese ambassador asserted…”
He added: “I was copying in someone who happened to have the same name as a lady at the BBC.
“These things happen.”
Shadow foreign secretary and contender in the Labour Party leadership race Emily Thornberry said the incident was symbolic of the Government’s “shambolic” response to the virus.
Ms Thornberry told PA: “Just when we thought Boris Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus crisis couldn’t get any more shambolic, we find out his bumbling father is acting as an unofficial envoy to the Chinese because his bumbling son can’t even be bothered to pick up the phone to his Chinese counterpart.
“No wonder British nationals in China at risk from this virus are feeling confused at the advice they’ve been given and abandoned by their own government.
“This is exactly the lazy, inept and reckless Boris Johnson that I shadowed for his two years as Foreign Secretary. He’s clearly learnt nothing since then.”
Mr Johnson Snr, who has appeared on various TV shows such as Celebrity Gogglebox, declined to say if he had discussed the Chinese concerns directly with the Prime Minister.
The PM’s father also said in the email that he had raised the possibility of his son visiting China later in the year to attend an international conference on biodiversity, COP15.
Lord Goldsmith sent a reply to Mr Johnson, stating: “Thank you so much, Stanley. That is extremely useful”, according to the BBC.
Mr Liu shared pictures of him and Mr Johnson Snr on Twitter after their meeting.
The Chinese ambassador tweeted: “Thank you Mr. Stanley Johnson for expressing your sympathy and support to the Chinese people who are fighting the novel coronavirus.
“With the support of British friends, we have the confidence and capability to beat the virus!”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We have been in close contact with the Chinese authorities from the beginning of the outbreak.
“The Foreign Secretary and the National Security Adviser have both spoken to their counterparts in the past week. We continue to work constructively with them.”
A Government source said Mr Johnson Snr is a prominent environmental campaigner and that it was “not surprising” that he had been in contact with the Chinese authorities when Beijing was preparing to host the COP15 summit.
The Chinese ambassador used a press conference on Thursday to attack what he called “rumours and panic” regarding coronavirus.