Lib Dem defector Phillip Lee really wants you to know he’s not a homophobe

Phillip Lee

Phillip Lee, the lawmaker who made shockwaves for defecting from the ruling Conservative Party to the Liberal Democrats, is insisting he is not homophobic.

In an interview with The Times, Lee defended his decision to abstain on a House of Commons vote on marriage equality. He argued it was a “liberal” choice and part of a “nuanced argument”.

The MP for Bracknell, while greeted with open arms by leader Jo Swinson, had a frosty welcome from LGBT+ Lib Dems and allies, many of whom resigned in protest over Lee’s contended history with queer rights.

MP who abstained from equal marriage vote said it was a “nuanced argument”.

“Of course I believe in equality of relationships. I always did,” he said.

“I think I’m guilty of nuanced argument, I would actually argue that it is a liberal approach to take the state out of marriage. For me to be accused of being homophobic — can we actually look at what I have said and done?”

He added: “I was just trying to suggest that perhaps a more sensible way forward was to get out of the marriage business.”

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He later told the paper that he abstained from the historical vote as he wanted to support “civil unions”.

Phillip Lee wanted to bar migrants living with HIV from the UK.

Moreover, the 48-year-old was dogged by criticism from activists for tabling an amendment to the Immigration Bill in January 2014 that would have forced people applying for visas to disclose their HIV status.

Asylum seekers would also have had to reveal whether they live with Hepatitis B and “other pathogens as the secretary of state may prescribe by order under this section”, according to parliamentary business records.

“Persons who apply for immigration permission must demonstrate that they are not carriers,” the proposed law text drawn up by Lee read.

Liberal Democrat MP Philip Lee speaking at the Best for Britain and the Peoples Vote campaigns rally in London, 2018. (Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket/ Getty Images)
Liberal Democrat MP Phillip Lee speaking at the Best for Britain and the Peoples Vote campaigns rally in London, 2018. (Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket/ Getty Images)

But the GP told the Guardian‘s Today in Focus podcast this his views on LGBT+ topics have been misrepresented.

“My view was that it’s better that with people coming into this country we knew their status so that they could be treated, and also that we could prevent further infection spreading. That’s not how it’s been portrayed in certain quarters.”

Furthermore, he elaborated this his comment was drawing upon his “medical experience” while working in sub-Saharan Africa with patients who exhibited an “Aids-defining illness” who were not aware of their status.

“Therefore, they’ve been leading a life like anyone else, without any knowledge, and then they’re actually developing illness because of their ignorance of their status, I don’t think it’s right, morally, for those people not to know.

“That would be the purpose.”

Lee is “having conversations” with LGBT+ Lib Dems.

Nevertheless, Lee crossing the floor, in effect wiping prime minister Boris Johnson’s majority, fractured the Lib Dems. Swinson’s party is stocked with anti-Brextieers and is working to re-brand the party as pro-LGBT+.

But Jennie Rigg, the then party’s LGBT+ chair, resigned in protest to Lee’s admittance.

In a scathing blog post detailing why, she described Lee as “a homophobe, a xenophobe, and someone who thinks people should be barred from the country if they are ill”.

According to both interviews, Lee has since started “having conversations” with LGBT+ groups within the party in an effort to ease members. Some have accepted his argument, he added.

To The Times, he said: “All I can do is turn up and say: ‘You have jumped to the wrong conclusion about me. And can I explain to you what this was about?’”