Conservatives condemned by British Jewish leaders after MEPs vote to defend Hungary's far-right Orban government

The organisation has said the Conservative support for Mr Orban's authoritarian regime is 'very concerning'

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 13 September 2018 13:23 BST
'We would like to have a fair Brexit because we love the British,' says Hungary PM Viktor Orbán

A leading British Jewish organisation has condemned Conservative MEPs after they voted in defence of Hungary’s far-right government under Viktor Orban.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it was “very concerning” that the Conservatives had chosen to defend Hungary’s “appalling track record” which they pointed out included both “vivid antisemitism” and islamophobia.

The attack is likely to be embarrassing for Theresa May, whose MEPs were last night accused of helping to defend Mr Orban in a bid for backing in Brexit talks due next week, something Tory sources have denied.

The full statement from the Board of Deputies president, Marie van der Zyl said : “I note with disappointment that Conservative Party MEPs have voted in defence of Hungary’s populist, right-wing government of Viktor Orban.

“As we have stated previously, we are very alarmed by the messages at the heart of Orban’s election campaign, including his comments about ‘Muslim invaders’, calling migrants poison, and the vivid antisemitism in the relentless campaign against Jewish philanthropist George Soros.”

Ms van der Zyl said that Hungary’s “whipping up of prejudice”, restrictions on the media and judiciary “must be stopped”.

She added: “It is very concerning that Conservative Party MEPs chose to defend Hungary’s appalling track record, rather than supporting a motion to protect the rule of law.”

Slovakia: EU considers personal leadership dangerous - Orban

Politicians from across the EU voted by a two-thirds majority 448-197 in favour of starting the ‘Article 7’ process on Wednesday – which could ultimately see Hungary stripped of its voting rights at the European Council.

An analysis of votes by The Independent has found the Tories were the only governing conservative party in western Europe to vote against the move.

Of the Tory MEPs, only Nosheena Mobarik rebelled to vote for the motion, while two others, Charles Tannock and Sajjad Karim, abstained. Separately, Richard Ashworth and Julie Girling, who were elected as Conservatives but left their political group over Brexit and do not take the whip, also backed action.

Last night Mr Karim told The Independent that he had refused to vote against the motion because of Mr Orban’s antisemitism and islamophobia, adding: “I cannot vote in any way that Victor Orban may choose to mislead Hungarians.”

It is very concerning that Conservative Party MEPs chose to defend Hungary’s appalling track record, rather than supporting a motion to protect the rule of law

Board of Deputies president, Marie van der Zyl

Ahead of the vote, Tories in the parliament claimed the EU’s process had been “politicised” and was counterproductive, while Conservative sources in Strasbourg denied the vote had anything to do with Brexit afterwards.

Their counterparts in London highlighted that the European group is autonomous and decides its own whipping arrangements independently, pointing out that Theresa May had not played a role in the decision to back Orban.

But one Tory politician told The Independent: “No one will say it publicly, but it’s clear that we are going to gain brownie points with people who might be able to help us in the Brexit negotiations.”

Mr Orban himself arrived at the meeting of the European parliament saying: “We would like to have a fair Brexit because we love the British and because we cooperated always well – and you deserve a good deal, a fair deal.”

Theresa May’s spokesman said on Wednesday: “The outcome was the result of a democratic vote in the European parliament and is now a matter for the European Council.

“We await the process going forward which is to be set out by the Austrian presidency.

“We place great values on the importance of the rule of law. We hope a resolution can be found that respects a nation’s right to set its own constitutional arrangements within the framework of international norms.”

He also denied that any support Mr Orban might derive from the vote by Tory MEPs was in return for any support from the Hungarian leader for Brexit.

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