Michael Gove has refused to condemn Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for calling migration ‘poison’ and immigrants ‘invaders’.
The European Union has censured Orban after years of criticism that he is anti-democratic, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic but on the Andrew Marr Show this morning, the Environment Secretary said there needed to be a ‘generosity of spirit’ towards him.
Mr Gove said he had ‘views’ about Orban but was ‘not going to be drawn’ into giving an assessment of individual leaders.
Several Conservative MEPs were criticised for opposing the censure motion against Hungary in the European Parliament earlier this week.
‘It’s not for me to rank a league table of EU leaders and to say that one is my favourite or that one have less time for,’ Mr Gove said.
‘Because I believe in cooperative diplomacy – I believe in generosity of spirit towards EU partners.
‘I think it would be wrong for me – at a time when we need solidarity against a number of different threats – we need to make sure that our voice is clear; our position on these issues is absolutely clear and resonant.’
Labour MP David Lammy was shocked at Mr Gove’s attitude, branding him ‘morally bankrupt’.
MEPs voted overwhelmingly to back a report recommending action against the Hungarian government over its electoral system, media freedoms, independence of the judiciary, mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and limits on the functioning of non-governmental organisations.
Mr Gove said it was ‘not true’ the Conservatives supported Mr Orban despite Tory MEPs opposing the measures.
A Conservative spokesman said earlier this week: ‘Viktor Orban has a track record of responding to legal moves not political threats.
‘Politicising the issue at this early stage simply undermines any future legal action, while boosting Orban’s domestic support.’
Shadow Cabinet office minister Jon Trickett said: ‘Each week that passes shows the acceleration of extremist right wing tendencies in the Conservative Party.
‘Today Michael Gove refused to condemn Viktor Orban who leads the Hungarian government’s pandering to antisemitism and Islamophobia, attacks on judicial and media independence and abhorrent treatment of refugees and minorities.
‘It is shocking that Tory MEPs voted against censuring the reactionary Hungarian government and that Cabinet ministers are now choosing to support the Orban government’s authoritarian and anti-democratic practices.
‘Theresa May should do what Gove failed to do and condemn the Hungarian government.’