Second Tory equalities minister, Mike Freer, quits as Boris Johnson hangs on by thread

Tory equalities minister Mike Freer.

Tory equalities minister Mike Freer has become the latest government official to resign as Boris Johnson fights for political survival.

Freer, one of the most well-known LGBTQ+ MPs in parliament, became the 32nd Tory to quit the government in response to the scandal surrounding Boris Johnson and MP Chris Pincher, who has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Johnson admitted that he knew of allegations against Pincher when he appointed him deputy chief whip, a deception which has proven one too far for ministers including Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid.

In a letter to the prime minister, Mike Freer resigned as both equalities minister, a role he was appointed to in 2021, and as exports minister for the Department for International Trade.

The MP for Finchley and Golders Green wrote: “I have been grateful for the opportunity to create focus in exploiting our new exports markets and in working to try and improve the lives of LGBT+ people in the UK.

“I would also like to thank you for your personal support on many local issues since your days as Mayor of London but, also more personally in your support with my recent security issues.

He echoed the government’s now-defunct LGBTQ+ advisory group in citing an “atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people” stoked by Johnson.

“However, I feel that we are moving away from the One Nation Conservative party I joined, not least in creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people and I regret I can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with,” Freer said.

“I have decided I must prioritise the diverse constituency of Finchley & Golders Green, One Nation conservatism, as well as my passion for equalities.”

Freer’s resignation came only an hour after Kemi Badenoch resigned from her post as minister for equalities.

Freer, who worked at various fast-food chains and at a bank before pursuing politics, came out as gay during a speech in the debates over legalising marriage equality in Britain.

In 2013, the relatively fresh-faced MP told the House of Commons as lawmakers debated over his right to marry that he had been in a civil partnership with his partner of 21 years.

“My civil partnership was our way of saying to my friends and family that this is who I love, this is who I am and this is who I want to spend the rest of my life with,” he told his fellow MPs. “I am not asking for special treatment, I am simply asking for equal treatment.”

Equality is something Freer has long been passionate about. But during his time in government, Johnson moved to exclude trans people from a long-delayed conversion therapy ban and scrap vital reforms to the Gender Recognition Act.

Freer stressed that the government is conducting “separate work” on legislating a trans conversion therapy ban.

Freer was tasked with drafting up a new LGBTQ+ policy strategy after the government abandoned its LGBT+ Action Plan. He intended to announce the strategy, which would have covered sex work, healthcare and more, at the Tories’ global Safe To Be Me: A Global Equalities Conference in June.

But the government refusing to protect trans people from conversion therapy shattered the already withering support the government had from LGTBQ+ groups. At least 120 organisations pulled out of the conference, leading it to be cancelled altogether.

So Freer bowing out while dealing a broadside to Johnson’s handling of LGBTQ+ rights was praised by Jayne Ozanne, one of the government’s former LGBTQ+ advisors. She quit the panel over the government creating a “hostile environment” for queer Brits.

“I’m very glad that Mike Freer has called out the open hostility this administration has to the LGBT+ community, which was the primary reason I myself resigned from the government’s LGBT+ advisory panel last year,” she tells PinkNews.

“I’m very grateful to Mike that all he has sought to do for the LGBT+ community over the years, particularly in standing up to the prime minister and others on the need to protect trans people from the horrors of ‘conversion therapy’.”