Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban is unlike most state leaders Downing Street rolls out the red carpet for.
Authoritarian, illiberal and content to deploy racist tropes to maintain power, many on the continent believe a Hungary led by Orban and his right-wing populist Fidesz party has no place in the European Union.
Here is why – despite No.10 calling Orban’s anti-immigrant comments “divisive and wrong” – Boris Johnson faces mounting criticism for welcoming his Hungarian counterpart.
1, Orban described migrants as ‘poison’ and ‘Muslim invaders’
The migrant influx into Europe was described by Orban as “a poison” and “Muslim invaders”.
These comments, which were widely condemned, were made at a joint press conference with Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern in Budapest, in July 2016, when refugees from war-torn Syria were fleeing attacks.
“Hungary does not need a single migrant for the economy to work, or the population to sustain itself, or for the country to have a future,” Orban said, adding: “Every single migrant poses a public security and terror risk.”
In a separate interview with Politico, Orban said “the factual point is that all the terrorists are basically migrants”.
Asked about the comments on Friday, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “I think Viktor Orban’s views on migrants are things that I would not endorse in any way. ”
2, Anti-Semitism and attacks on George Soros
Orban has been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism, including in politically-driven attacks on philanthropist George Soros.
Soros, who was was born in Budapest in 1930 to Jewish parents, accused the PM of “employing anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the 1930s”.
It came after a series of Fidesz party posters and leaflets, accusing of a secret plot to settle at least a million migrants a year in Europe and pay them each thousands of euros.
Soros said the campaign posters were not dissimilar to the anti-Semitic imagery of the 1930s, which portrayed Jews as wealthy political manipulators.
Orban’s cultural commissioner Szilard Demeter also compared Soros to Hitler, calling him a “liberal Fuhrer” who viewed Europe as “his gas chamber”. He also likened Poland and Hungary to “the new Jews”.
3, Hungary built a border during the Syrian refugee crisis
As thousands left Syria to escape Bashar al-Assad and Isis in 2015, Hungary built a border barrier on its border with Serbia and Croatia.
The 4m-high, 109 mile-long fence aimed at preventing migrants entering the country.
Soldiers were sent to block the route from Serbia and sealed the border with razor wire. Refugees and migrants were detained and targeted with water cannon and tear gas.
Orban later declared a state of emergency and deployed 1,500 soldiers to Hungary’s borders in March 2016.
In January 2018, the country started to refuse to take in refugees despite their desperate need.
Orban stoked fears of higher crime and terrorism, telling the public: “Mass migration is threatening the security of Europeans because it brings with it an exponentially increased threat of terrorism.
“We know nothing about these people: where they really come from, who they are, what their intentions are, whether they have received any training, whether they have weapons, or whether they are members of any organisation. Furthermore, mass migration also increases crime rates.”
4, Attacks on the media and freedom of speech
Orban has presided over a deterioration of press freedom in Hungary.
The station Klubradio, whose news and talk content is often critical of the Hungarian government, lost its license to broadcast, with the country’s media regulator saying it had “repeatedly infringed” the rules.
Its frequency was awarded to Spirit FM, whose owner is supportive of Orban.
US secretary of state Andrew Blinken is among those to criticise Orban, saying: “We have real concern that is shared by international press freedom advocates and many Hungarians over the decline of the pluralism and diversity and independent voices.”
But the government’s attack on freedom of speech took a more sinister turn after the Covid outbreak, when Hungary’s parliament has passed emergency laws that include jail terms for spreading misinformation.
Crucially, the laws have no clear time limit to the “state of emergency”, during which Orban can “rule by decree”.
In what is seen as a clear threat to journalists, the laws state those who intentionally spread “misinformation” that hinders the government response to the pandemic can be jailed for five years.
Reporters Without Borders last year dropped Hungary 16 points in its annual World Press Freedom Index to 89th place.
The media watchdog said: “Its coronavirus legislation, which gave the government almost unlimited powers to handle the crisis, threatened journalists with prosecution on charges of disseminating fake news and ‘blocking the government’s anti-pandemic efforts,’ and imposed additional curbs on their already limited access to state-held information.”
5, Increasingly close ties with Russia and China
Europe’s “strongman” leader has cast his government as allies to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Xi Jinping’s Chinese Communist Party.
Both China and Russia are similarly authoritarian regimes and often hostile to the west.
Orban has repeatedly been criticised for his closeness to the two country’s leaders and last year Hungary controversially began using Chinese and Russian Covid-19 vaccines, which were not approved by the European Medicines Agency.
Putin is said to view Orban as one of Moscow’s strongest allies in the EU and he visited Budapest in 2016, reportedly to discuss a long-term energy deal.
While it is not alleged that Orban is peddling a pro-Kremlin agenda, his ties with Putin leave many EU leaders uncomfortable.
Kwarteng added his in interview with the BBC today that he believed it was vital for Boris Johnson to engage with Hungary post-Brexit.
He said: “Hungary is an EU country, we were part of the EU. And in this post-Brexit world, I think it’s absolutely right for us to be building bilateral relations with countries in the former EU.
“I think it’s completely reasonable to do that, and not to do so I think would be irresponsible.
“So it’s a diplomatic relationship that we want to develop. We want to talk to European leaders, and I think it’s absolutely right that the prime minister does that.”