Environment Secretary Michael Gove has been criticised after he refused to condemn Conservative MEPs who opposed aEuropean Parliament censure motion against Hungary and its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Mr Orbán’s ruling Fidesz Party have taken the country down an increasingly right-wing route and the European Parliament had initiated a disciplinary procedure against Hungary for potentially breaching the EU’s core values.
MEPs voted 448 in favour of the Article 7 motion, with 197 against and 48 abstentions. Of the 19 Tory MEPs, 16 voted against, with two of their group, Charles Tannock and Sajjad Karim, abstaining and another, Baroness Nosheena Mobarik, defying the whip to vote in favour.
Speaking to Andrew Marr on BBC Politics at the weekend, Mr Gove claimed it was untrue the Tory MEPs had backed Orbán.
He said they were defending a principle that the European Parliament should not “interfere in, or censure, the internal democracy of a particular country.”
The Tory MEPs joined far-right Euro parties to vote against the censure motion, drawing sharp criticism from across the political spectrum and from Muslim and Jewish groups.
The Tory group claimed after the vote that supporting the motion would have been “counterproductive” and given Orbán a boost domestically.
The passing of the motion could lead to Hungary losing its EU voting rights amid concerns about judicial independence, free speech, corruption and the rights of minorities.
Mr Gove insisted: “You or I might have particular views about other countries, but the European Parliament and those within it, British MEPs and others, believe that that’s the wrong way of expressing criticism.”
Orbán said recently that he backed a “fair Brexit” for Britain because “we love the British” and that the UK deserved a good exit deal.
Asked by Marr if he was pleased to have the Hungarian leader’s support, Gove said: “It’s not for me to rank a league table of EU leaders and say that one is my favourite and that one I have less time for, because I believe in cooperative diplomacy.”