Tories are backing far-right Viktor Orban to boost Theresa May's Brexit plans, says Muslim Council of Britain

The MCB's intervention follows a similar one from the Board of Deputies of British Jews criticising the Conservatives' vote 

Joe Watts
Political Editor
Thursday 13 September 2018 20:10 BST
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'We would like to have a fair Brexit because we love the British,' says Hungary PM Viktor Orbán

The Conservatives have been accused of giving “bigotry a free pass” by a leading UK Muslim group after backing Hungary’s authoritarian leader Viktor Orban in a crunch vote in the European parliament.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said it appeared the Tory party considered the rights of minorities “expendable” as it sought support for its Brexit plans from leaders such as Mr Orban, who has attacked press freedom and an independent judiciary.

Thew MCB’s statement comes alongside a similar one from the Board of Deputies of British Jews which accused Tory MEPs of defending Mr Orban’s “appalling track record” of antisemitism and Islamophobia

The MCB's secretary general Harun Khan said: “At a time when there are growing concerns about the rise of the far-right across Europe, it is deeply disappointing that Conservative Party MEPs were whipped to align themselves with far-right parties in supporting Mr Orban.

“One can only hope that the rights of Muslims and other minorities are not considered expendable as support is sought for the government’s Brexit position, as appears to have been the case with this vote.”

Mr Khan said the incident raised concerns about “bigotry in the party” after the Conservatives had refused up to this point to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia in its ranks.

Viktor Orban re-elected as Prime Minister of Hungary

He also paid tribute to Baroness Nosheena Mobarik, the only Conservative MEP who rebelled against the whip and backed the motion to censure Mr 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.

One can only hope that the rights of Muslims and other minorities are not considered expendable as support is sought for the government’s Brexit position, as appears to have been the case with this vote

Muslim Council of Britain secretary general Harun Khan

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.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said earlier on Thursday 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.

Its president, Marie van der Zyl, said: “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.”

Of the Tory MEPs, only Baroness 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 support Mr Orban in the vote because of his antisemitism and Islamophobia, adding: “I cannot vote in any way that Victor Orban may choose to mislead Hungarians.”

Ahead of the vote, Tories in the European 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.

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.

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However, 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.”

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