David Cameron faced fresh embarrassment over Europe last night, after it emerged that Conservative MEPs have consistently voted against a string of measures to protect women's rights.
Analysis of the record of 25 Tory members of the European Parliament this year shows they voted against, or abstained, eight times on issues relating to sexual equality, family-friendly working hours, maternity leave and reproductive health – often in clear defiance of official Conservative Party policy.
The MEPs also failed to back an EU resolution expressing concern about homophobic attacks in Croatia, which is seeking EU membership.
The disclosures come amid new pressure from Brussels on the Conservative leader after the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, called for a new EU treaty on closer European economic co-operation – a move that would force a Tory government to hold a referendum on Europe within months of taking office.
To the annoyance of Eurosceptics in his party, Mr Cameron ruled out a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty last year, but promised a nationwide vote on future treaties. Labour has also committed to a referendum on a new treaty. Ms Merkel's intervention on Friday means that the difficult issue of Europe will loom sooner than anticipated for Mr Cameron, should he win the election.
The Tory leader has found the stance of his MEPs, many of them hardline Eurosceptics, including the controversial critic of the NHS Daniel Hannan, difficult to balance with his promises of a socially progressive Conservative government.
Last week, TV footage emerged of Mr Cameron's interview with Gay Times in which he appeared flustered over separate votes by Tory MEPs and Tory peers opposing gay rights.
Now the IoS can reveal details of eight votes on women's rights and a further vote on homophobia in the European Parliament last month, compiled by the Liberal Democrats.
On 25 February, 22 out of 25 Tory MEPs voted against a resolution calling for the EU to become a party to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. The remaining three did not vote.
On 10 February, seven measures on a report on equality for women in the EU saw the majority of Tory MEPs voting against or abstaining. The measures included giving better protection to women on maternity leave, backing women's easy access to contraception and abortion, and making men more aware of their responsibilities for sexual and reproductive health.
Also on 10 February, one Tory MEP opposed, with 16 abstaining, a motion calling on the Croatian government to do more to crack down on homophobic attacks in the country. No Tory MEPs voted in favour.
Fiona Hall, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Europe, said: "For the Tories to suggest that it is in women's interests to vote for them is downright cheek. We have looked at the voting record of Conservative MEPs and one thing is very clear: the Conservatives are a danger to women."
A spokesman for Tory MEPs said: "We have repeatedly made it clear in the European Parliament that we fully support equality. However, we believe that it should be for sovereign nation states to legislate on social issues in their own countries, and not the EU.
"Matters relating to reproductive rights are conscience issues and therefore members are given a free vote."
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