The Prime Minister has pulled out of speaking at a Yorkshire conference of northern Conservatives ahead of a closely-contested by-election in the county.

Boris Johnson has instead made a surprise visit to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

He had been due to address Tory MPs and party members during a Northern Research Group event in Doncaster, South Yorkshire, on Friday.

His last-minute cancellation comes after the Conservative candidate for the Wakefield by-election compared trust in the Tories amid the resignation of disgraced former MP for the constituency, Imran Ahmad Khan, to faith in GPs despite the crimes of mass murderer Harold Shipman.

Mr Khan resigned after being found guilty of groping a teenage boy, and Nadeem Ahmed will be running to replace him in the West Yorkshire seat in less than a week.

Conservative MP Jake Berry told reporters at 1pm that he did not know why the PM was not there but that the reason will be clarified “in the next hour”.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer talking to locals whilst on the Wakefield by-election campaign trail with Labour candidate Simon Lightwood (Peter Byrne/PA)Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer talking to locals while on the Wakefield by-election campaign trail with Labour candidate Simon Lightwood (Peter Byrne/PA)

When asked why Mr Johnson had pulled out, Mr Berry, who represents Rossendale and Darwen, said: “I don’t know.

“When you have the Prime Minister of your country who is going to come and attend your conference, which is brilliant, and he’s a huge supporter and has been in touch to wish us all the best, occasionally things happen, which I understand will come out in the next hour about why he’s had to cancel the whole of his tour to the North of England today.

“It is an unfortunate thing but at the end of the day, he’s Prime Minister of our country and things come up.”

Downing Street declined to discuss the Prime Minister’s whereabouts on Friday or over the weekend.

Mr Berry previously described the conference as “a fantastic chance to discuss ideas that will help us Level Up the North” and give members “the opportunity to shape our policy asks from Government”.

Earlier on Friday, business minister Paul Scully distanced himself from Wakefield candidate Mr Ahmed’s Harold Shipman comment, telling LBC: “It’s not a comparison I would have made.”