Sir Elton John has accused Suella Braverman of comments which risk“legitimising hate and violence” as he and Sir Ian McKellen led a fierce backlash against her controversial remarks about gay asylum seekers.
Senior Tories also warned the home secretary’s incendiary claims would cost the party votes at the next general election, as the outcry intensified.
Ms Braverman sparked outrage with a speech on Tuesday in which she said “simply being gay” should not be enough to gain protection under international law.
Despite the barrage of criticism she doubled down, claiming there were “many instances” of asylum seekers pretending to be gay in order to “game the system”.
But she was challenged to provide evidence after Home Office statistics showed sexual orientation formed part of the basis of just 1 per cent of all asylum claims in 2021.
Opposition politicians and campaigners also accused her of trying to distract from her government’s failings on migration.
Her claim came after Sir Elton and his long-term partner David Furnish released a statement saying they were “very concerned” by her comments and calling for “more compassion, support and acceptance for those seeking a safer future”. Ms Braverman risked “further legitimising hate and violence”, they warned.
They were joined by acting legend Sir Ian, who told Channel 4 News Ms Braverman’s remarks were “laced with a good dollop of prejudice” and part of a tilt at a Tory leadership bid.
Ms Braverman was accused of “picking on” gay people and “throwing [them] under the bus” – with senior Tories warning that she had alienated the LGBT+ voters and revived the “nasty party” reputation.
One former Tory cabinet minister, who claimed the Conservatives had won the support of almost all gay voters after making same-sex marriages legal in 2013, told The Independent that Ms Braverman had torpedoed the party’s LGBT+ credentials.
“In one speech this has cut off the gay vote to the Conservative Party,” they said. “It is a constituency which has been in one swoop alienated.”
The senior Tory added: “The damage to the party is one thing; but the international trashing of Britain as a fair and humane place for those who are persecuted has taken a horrendous backward step.”
Former justice secretary David Gauke described her claims as “incendiary” and “not supported by the evidence” and said they would harm the party at the election. “The Conservative Party should be better than this,” he said. “This is the type of rhetoric that will only further damage its reputation with large parts of the electorate.”
Another senior Tory, a former minister, told The Independent: “Gays are being thrown under a bus. It’s a sizeable vote to dismiss.”
Ms Braverman has called on world leaders to make major changes to the UN Refugee Convention, arguing it had become too generous. “We will not be able to sustain an asylum system if in effect simply being gay, or a woman, and fearful of discrimination in your country of origin is sufficient to qualify for protection.”
Responding to criticism on Wednesday, while still in the US, Ms Braverman said it was “flippant” to suggest that her speech was aimed at boosting her leadership credentials. “I am here working as home secretary,” she told the Press Association.
The cabinet minister, grilled on Sir Elton’s criticism about her comments on gay refugees, rejected claims she was lacking in compassion. “I don’t think that is true.”
Doubling down, Ms Braverman later told ITV’s Peston: “People do game the system – they purport to be homosexual in the effort to game our system, in the effort to get special treatment. That’s not fair. It’s not right. I’m afraid we do see many instances when people purport to be gay when they’re not actually gay.”
Andrew Boff – a leading Tory London Assembly member who is patron of the LGBT+ Conservatives group – told The Independent that Ms Braverman was indulging in “dog whistle” politics to appeal to the right.
Mr Boff warned that Ms Braverman could revive the ghost of the “nasty party” on LGBT+ issues. “We had not too a good record in years gone by, but we have a more proud one in recent years – we introduced equal marriage, we are heading towards zero new HIV infections. So the home secretary’s comments are not helpful or accurate,” he said.
Jayne Ozanne, the Tory government’s former LGBT+ adviser, told The Independent that the Tories could lose millions of votes over its rhetoric and policy.
“I’m appalled that Braverman picking on a small minority of claims from LGBT refugees – she is scapegoating a community. What concerns me is the silence from so many LGBT Tory MPs – that’s deeply distressing.”
She added: “The Tories will pay a price for this. The government has shown it no longer cares about the pink vote. They’ve undermined all trust from the LGBT community – and their friends and allies. It’s no longer a small minority group. Millions of voters care about these issues.”
The leading campaigner, who quit her role and the Tory party in 2021 over the failure to implement a ban on conversion therapy, added: “It looks like they have no intention of bringing in the ban. They have shown cowardice and moral failure.”
Culture secretary Lucy Frazer has declined to commit to keeping the UK in the UN Refugee Convention. Pressed repeatedly, she told Sky News: “What [Braverman] was talking about is whether those sorts of conventions should be reformed.”
Downing Street confirmed that Rishi Sunak signed off on Ms Braverman’s controversial speech. No 10 said the address “went through the normal process”.
But Tory peer Lord Hayward said it was up to Ms Braverman, rather the PM, to justify her remarks. “She has to show that avenue of the system is being abused – the burden rests on her, not other people in the party.”
The polling expert played down the prospect that Ms Braverman would lose the Tories lots of votes. “The party’s reputation on LGBT+ issues has turned around. One set of comments doesn’t change that. I would be more concerned about the [delayed] policy on conversion therapy. It could have more impact.”
In an unusual move, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) rebuked Ms Braverman’s speech after she claimed global leaders had failed to reform asylum rules because they fear being called “racist”. The international body said the 1951 Refugee Convention “remains a life-saving instrument”.
The UNHCR also rejected Ms Braverman’s claim that asylum seekers should face more than just discrimination for being gay if they are to qualify as a refugee. “Where individuals are at risk of persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, it is crucial that they are able to seek safety and protection,” it said.
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