The BBC has been urged to overrule a decision not to allow Volodymyr Zelensky from addressing tonight’s Eurovision final, following criticism from Rishi Sunak.
The European Broadcasting Union, an alliance of 112 member organisations which owns Eurovision, has barred the Ukrainian president on the basis that political messages are against its rules.
The decision prompted a widespread backlash on Friday, with the Prime Minister leading the criticism.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The values and freedoms that President Zelensky and the people of Ukraine are fighting for are not political, they’re fundamental.
“Eurovision themselves recognised that last year when they rightly suspended Russian participation from the competition.”
Boris Johnson also weighed in, writing on Twitter that: “It would have been right to hear from President Zelenskyy,” adding: “There is only one reason the contest is not in Ukraine and that is because of Putin’s illegal war.”
On Friday it emerged that Tim Davie, the corporation’s director general, sits on the governing body of the EBU as one of its 11 executive board members.
However, the EBU has said the decision to bar Mr Zelensky was taken by “management”, and a BBC source denied Mr Davie played any part in it.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader, told The Daily Telegraph: “I hope the BBC will recognise the significance of this moment and allow Zelensky to speak before the Eurovision show. They should do it so he ends his piece to camera and then it goes straight to the coverage.
“The BBC should also speak to all the other nations broadcasting the show to carry that feed.”
Britain is hosting this year’s competition in Liverpool on behalf of Ukraine, the 2022 winner.
Mr Zelensky had wanted to make an unannounced video appearance. It is likely that he would have used the opportunity to seek to galvanise the huge audience to continue backing Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion.
The BBC has said the broadcast of this year’s contest is expected to be watched by more than 160 million viewers worldwide.
Both Conservative and Labour members of the commons culture select committee called on Mr Zelensky to be allowed to speak.
Damian Green, the acting chairman, described the decision as a “mistake”.
“This Eurovision is a unique event so it’s wrong to deny President Zelensky a chance to speak,” he said. “The viewers made their feelings known last year by voting for Ukraine and the rest of Europe should respect that.”
Labour’s Kevin Brennan called the decision “bizarre”.
The BBC is acting as host broadcaster on behalf of the EBU.