Boris Johnson misses red wall summit for surprise visit to Kyiv

Boris Johnson has made a second surprise visit to Kyiv for a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after pulling out of a major red wall conference in Doncaster at the last minute.

The prime minister was due to make a speech before Tory northern MPs, councillors and business leaders on Friday afternoon.

Sky News’ deputy political editor Sam Coates reported earlier today that organisers of the summit were “mystified” at the PM’s no-show, but had been told there was a “good reason” and that it is of “sufficient significance”.

The prime minister confirmed that he was absent from the conference to make his second visit to Ukraine since the start of the war, tweeting: “Mr President, Volodymyr, It is good to be in Kyiv again.”

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A message on Mr Zelensky’s Telegram account read: “Many days of this war have proved that Great Britain’s support for Ukraine is firm and resolute.

“Glad to see our country’s great friend Boris Johnson in Kyiv again.”

Downing Street said Mr Johnson met President Zelenskyy in Kyiv today to discuss Ukraine’s valiant fight against Russia and to “offer a major training programme for Ukrainian forces “to help sustain their heroic defence”.

The government says the programme, spearheaded by the UK, has to potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days and will assist both new and existing Ukrainian soldiers.

Video from the Ukrainian government showed Mr Zelensky warmly greeting the prime minister with a “hi, Boris” as he arrived at the presidential palace.

Mr Johnson’s social media post included a picture of the PM alongside Mr Zelenskyy.

The prime minister is seen holding a diary which reads “Tuesday 5 April” – the day he made a direct appeal to the Russian people, speaking partly in their own language.

“The Russian people deserve the truth, you deserve the facts,” he said in Russian.

Continuing in English, he added: “The atrocities committed by Russian troops in Bucha, Irpin and elsewhere in Ukraine have horrified the world. 

“Civilians massacred – shot dead with their hands tied, women raped in front of their young children, bodies crudely burned, dumped in mass graves, or just left lying in the street. 

“The reports are so shocking, so sickening, it’s no wonder your government is seeking to hide them from you. Your president knows that if you could see what was happening, you would not support his war.

“He knows that these crimes betray the trust of every Russian mother who proudly waves goodbye to her son as he heads off to join the military. 

“And he knows they are a stain on the honour of Russia itself. A stain that will only grow larger and more indelible every day this war continues.”

Mr Johnson became the first leader of a G7 country to travel to Kyiv when he went back in April.

The Ukrainian defence ministry said at the time: “We welcome Boris Johnson to Kyiv… Be brave, like Boris. Be brave, like Ukraine.”

The prime minister’s spokesperson earlier announced he would not be attending the summit in Doncaster Friday afternoon, just hours before the Tory leader was expected to make a speech.

There was speculation that the PM may have faced a rough ride following the partygate scandal and a major revolt by his own MPs.

The inaugural Northern Research Group Conference had been titled Levelling Up The North.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is understood to have attended a private dinner with conference-goers on Thursday evening.

The agenda included MPs hosting policy sessions on a range of subjects, including tax and the economy, defence, health and devolution.