Boris Johnson raised “significant concerns” about media freedoms and human rights with Viktor Orbán, No 10 has said, after sustained criticism of the prime minister’s decision to meet the Hungarian leader.
Prior to the meeting in Downing Street, Orbán had insisted he was right to describe Muslim refugees as “invaders”.
The meeting, affirming Johnson’s Eurosceptic credentials, was only the second such encounter between an EU leader and the prime minister since the final stage of Brexit.
The decision to invite the rightwing populist has been criticised by opposition and antiracism groups due to Orbán’s links to China and Russia, downgrading of civic freedoms and remarks about minorities.
No 10 said Johnson raised his “significant concerns about human rights in Hungary, including gender equality, LGBT rights and media freedom”.
It said it had to retain bilateral ties with EU leaders and pointed out that Orbán is the current rotating chair of the group of four Visegrád countries, the others being Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In a statement, No 10 said: “The leaders discussed the importance of the UK and Hungary working together to increase security and prosperity in our countries and to address global challenges such as climate change.”
Orbán highlighted the chance to develop new ties with the UK outside the EU, especially in defence and energy. He told reporters that the pair talked about finding “a way to cooperate in a post-Brexit period”.
Orbán rejected claims of antisemitism, and defended his past comments on Muslim “invaders” sweeping into Europe. He also defended the independence of Hungary’s judiciary as “one of the best in the European Union, I understand” and its free press. “If you go to a Hungarian newsstand and ask for a newspaper attacking the government, you will get a dozen immediately,” he claimed.
Earlier the UK business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, said leaders had to meet counterparts “whose values we don’t necessarily share”.
The Eurosceptic Orbán, who has previously praised Johnson for delivering Brexit, is seen as a close ally of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and has twice blocked the EU from issuing statements condemning China for its actions in Hong Kong.
Kwarteng said it was “absolutely right” for Johnson to “be building bilateral relations” after Brexit. Addressing Orbán’s remarks on migrants being “a poison”, Kwarteng told Sky News: “I think Viktor Orbán’s views on migrants are things that I would not endorse in any way. Having said that, I think that we have to engage with the EU, he’s an EU leader.”