Row after Tory MEPs abstain from pro-LGBT amendment vote

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Labour MEPs have criticised Tories this week for abstaining from a vote at the European Parliament on an amendment strengthening LGBT protections, with Tories accusing them of ‘grandstanding’ in response.

The European Parliament adopted its report on human rights this week and suggested additional action for the coming year. An LGBT rights amendment was passed by 353 votes to 268 with 52 abstentions, with no Tories voting in favour of it.

The Parliament called on the Council to change the ‘LGBT toolkit’, adopted in 2010, into binding guidelines, and reasserted non-discrimination principles in the EU’s relationship with the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group of states.

But a row has erupted over the actions of the Tory MEPs who abstained from the vote on these provisions and in two cases, voted against them.

Labour MEP Richard Howitt, who sponsored the report, said: “This shows the Tories as they really are. It’s a disgrace that they did not support my amendment calling for, for example, the European Commission to advocate the withdrawal of gender identity from the list of mental and behavioural disorders in their negotiations on the recent version of the International Classification of Diseases.

“Whatever Cameron claims, Tory views on LGBT issues are neanderthal and we saw that in yesterday’s vote.”

Hannah Blythyn, Co-Chair of LGBT Labour said: “Once again the Tory MEPs in Europe fail to stand up for LGBT rights. We’re proud that Labour continues to lead the way in defending and strengthening LGBT rights in Europe.

“It’s alarming, yet not surprising, that 25 of the 26 Conservatives in the European Parliament failed to support this amendment, which would condemn the classification of homosexuality as a ‘mental disorder’ by other countries. Additionally 2 Conservative MEPs and 23 of their allies in the European Conservatives and Reformists group voted against the amendment. This is in stark contrast to Labour’s Socialist group, none of whom voted against the proposal.”

But the Tories have hit back, saying the report had condemned the British government’s actions over EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights and attacked Britain’s record at the Parliament.

They said they had been angered by the inclusion of a clause saying France and the UK had an “obstructionist attitude” to accession.

Geoffrey Van Orden MEP, Conservative MEP for East Anglia said of the report: “There were many good things in there, especially to do with women’s and children’s rights, freedom of religion and observation of elections – but unfortunately he will have thrown that good work away in most British eyes by trying to condemn his own country on human rights grounds.

Mr Van Orden said a tweet by Mr Hewitt which said ‘Watch live now as I slam Cameron blocking EU on Human Rights Cnvntn’ showed the Labour MEP was “only really interested in grandstanding.”

Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman in the Parliament, said: “Labour seems unable to tell the difference between a bad record on human rights and a good record on defending common sense, on upholding national sovereignty and on making sure the European convention, once it is implemented, works as it should.

“Prime Minister Cameron is absolutely right to block EU accession to the ECHR which would threaten much of the UK’s hard won economic reforms and enormously expand the powers of the unelected Strasbourg judges.”

Labour MEP Michael Cashman said: “The Tories should explain why they refused to support an engagement in favour of LGBT people’s human rights when the EU negotiates with countries outside the EU and in multilateral forums. It’s important we use our trading power to encourage reform in countries where LGBT people are persecuted.

“We called for the reintroduction by the UN General Assembly of sexual orientation as grounds for protection from extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution also embracing grounds of sex and sexual orientation – this is human decency and every British MEP should fully support it. So why did the Tories abstain?”

Daniel Hannan, who voted against the amendment, criticised Mr Cashman in his Daily Telegraph blog for labelling the Tory MEP homophobic for “thinking that sexual orientation is none of the EU’s bloody business”.

He added: “He can’t see – or at least he pretends not to be able to see – that you can be in favour of gay equality while none the less believing that moral questions ought to be decided by each nation through its own democratic mechanisms and procedures.

Aside from the political rows over the limits of the EU, the recommendations for gay and transgender citizens were welcomed.

Ulrike Lunacek MEP, Co-president of the European Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup, said of the vote: “The European Union has done praiseworthy efforts for LGBT rights in the world. In particular, the toolkit adopted by the Council Working Party on Human Rights in 2010 has been used efficiently in a number of countries. The Council should now consider upgrading such a useful tool.”

Dennis de Jong MEP, Vice-president of the LGBT Intergroup, added: “Of course, the European Union can and should still do more. When it comes to LGBT rights at home, welcoming those who flee genuine persecution in Uganda, Iran or Indonesia is a duty of the EU. We must show international solidarity, and continue improving things at home in the meantime.”