One of Boris Johnson’s top aides in the lead-up to the election has said the UK should have a “special relationship” with Viktor Orban’s authoritarian government in Hungary after Brexit.
Tim Montgomerie, who was social justice adviser at Downing Street until last month, praised the Hungarian government’s thinking on the “limits of liberalism”.
At the helm of his far-right Fidesz party, Mr Orban has centralised power around himself and his allies, cracking down on civil society and monopolising the media.
The government has also been accused of running antisemitic and Islamophobic hate campaigns, notably against Jewish philanthropist George Soros.
In 2018, Mr Orban confirmed that his party had “replaced a shipwrecked liberal democracy with a 21st-century Christian democracy”.
In May, the Council of Europe’s report on Hungary said that “human rights violations in Hungary have a negative effect on the whole protection system and the rule of law. They must be addressed as a matter of urgency.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant described Mr Montgomerie’s backing for the regime as representing “extraordinarily dangerous views close to the heart of government”.
“Orban is as close to an open fascist as Europe has had for decades,” he added.
Mr Montgomerie made his comments, first reported by BuzzFeed News, at a 17 December meeting hosted by the Danube Institute, a right-wing think-tank.
“I think there will be very significant investment by Boris Johnson in relationships, particularly bilaterally, with key European states. I think the French relationship will be significant, and I think this relationship with Budapest will be significant as well,” he said.
“Budapest and Hungary have been home, I think, for an awful lot of interesting early thinking on the limits of liberalism, and I think we are seeing that in the UK as well. So I hope there will be a special relationship with Hungary amongst other states.”
Days after the meeting, Mr Montgomerie was criticised after he took to Twitter to declare that “Hungarian family policy is worthy of close study”. Critics claimed that the policies, which encourage Hungarians to have large families, have highly conservative undertones.
Mr Montgomerie’s views are not necessarily isolated in the Conservative Party. Mr Orban was one of the first world leaders to be invited to Downing Street after Theresa May took office.
Tory MEPs were also criticised after they stood almost alone among western conservative parties in supporting Mr Orban’s government against European Parliament censure.
A government spokesperson said Mr Montgomerie “has not currently returned to his position” following the general election, though stopped short of saying he would not return.