The prime minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, has defended travelling to his villa in Greece amid growing condemnation by saying that he was making the property “Covid-proof”.
Government guidelines state that British nationals should avoid all but essential travel, but his son Boris has refused to criticise the trip and, on Friday, suggested the media should raise the issue directly with his father.
Johnson senior, 79, posted a picture on social media of himself apparently arriving at Athens airport wearing a mask earlier this week. He told reporters that he was visiting on “essential business” before the letting season.
However, there are no rules in Greece compelling landlords to “Covid-proof” homes for letting. He rents the property for £2,100 a week during peak season.
Interviewed by Greek media outside the mountain villa in Pelion overlooking the Aegean sea on Saturday, Johnson senior said: “I don’t know what the reaction of the British public [is]. I’ve been, you know, not particularly … I came here to have a quiet time, to organise the house, so I’m not 100% up to speed.”
He said he intended to return to the UK on 10 July. “People are longing to get here, so I’ve just got one week to get everything organised. And this is a country which has everything. But here I am, how could you be here and not look around at this fantastic place?
“I’ve got a whole load of instructions about how to make the place Covid-proof.”
Asked about the photo he posted to social media, he claimed: “I didn’t put them up in a spirit of defiance or anything like that.”
He added: “I’m not going to say whether my actions are correct or not – in any case, what happened, happened.”
Caught on camera with a towel thrown over his left shoulder, seemingly after swimming, Johnson senior said it was vital that an air bridge was created “as quick as we can” to facilitate direct travel between the two nations.
“How wonderful it would be if, quite quickly, the two governments could come to some arrangement.”
Johnson senior flew to Athens via Sofia, Bulgaria, seemingly to circumvent Greek government rules against direct flights from the UK to the country, which has been praised for its handling of the pandemic – with deaths in the low three figures.
On Thursday evening, he was photographed sitting alone in his favourite seaside restaurant with a bottle of red wine, as criticism grew that his actions could further undermine the public’s trust in government guidelines.
The former MEP had long planned to travel to Greece, telling one Greek journalist in May that he had already booked his air ticket. “I’m very worried that we may not be able to [go] this summer,” he told the Greek daily Ta Nea.
“We are in this country in lockdown and even if we can leave Britain it’s not clear to me that we would yet be welcome in Greece … of course I’d love to be there, even if I had to go and self-isolate in my house I’d do that.”