Three Conservative MPs have been condemned after attending a conference hosted by the populist Hungarian prime minister, Viktor Orbán, along with representatives from a series of hard right and far-right European parties.
Veteran backbenchers Sir Edward Leigh, Sir Christopher Chope and Ian Liddell-Grainger were pictured in Budapest alongside Orbán and members of other populist or far-right parties including Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, Spain’s Vox and the Sweden Democrats.
Leigh, who represents Gainsborough in Lincolnshire and has been an MP for 40 years, on Saturday tweeted a photo of himself and his two colleagues with Orbán saying they had been “learning about his country’s effective ways of combating illegal migration”.
Orbán has been something of a pioneer in Europe of ultra-tough laws on migration, associated with rhetoric about “invasions” that often touches on far-right or sometimes antisemitic tropes. His government passed a law criminalising individuals or groups who help unofficial entrants claim asylum.
On his own Twitter feed, Orbán posted a photo of himself and the three British MPs among a larger gathering of populist, hard right and far-right MEPs and MPs from a series of countries.
With Prime Minister Viktor Orbán of Hungary, learning about his country’s effective ways of combating illegal migration. pic.twitter.com/NE3HmCicSC
— Sir Edward Leigh MP (@EdwardLeighMP) June 3, 2023
The presence of Leigh, along with Chope, who became the MP for Christchurch in Dorset in 1997 after losing his Southampton Itchen seat in 1992 after a nine-year stint, and Liddell-Grainger, an MP since 2001 and the member for Bridgwater and West Somerset, highlights the Conservatives’ wider links with such groups.
The UK MPs were attending a gathering of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, or EC/DA, a rightwing grouping in the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly, a separate body to the EU’s parliament, of which the UK is still a member.
Formed in 1970, with the Tories as founder members, this was initially a centre-right grouping, but has become increasingly populist. Other member parties include the Danish People’s party, the far-right Finns party, and Greek Solution, as well as Orbán’s Fidesz. Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party was a member, when Russia was part of the Council of Europe.
Liddell-Grainger is currently the chair of the EC/DA, with about a dozen Tory MPs in total being members.
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrats’ Cabinet Office spokesperson, said: “This is a shameful image for the Conservative party. Conservative MPs should not be cosying up to a far-right leader who has enforced homophobic and anti-democratic policies.
“The British public will be shocked to see the Conservative party now learning lessons from the likes of Orbán. This is a new low for Conservative MPs.”
Leigh, Chope and Liddell-Grainger were contacted for comment.