Wednesday, 21 October 2020

MP denies claim of far-right groups link

MP denies claim of far-right groups link

JOHN HOWELL has hit back at claims he has associated himself with political extremists.

The Henley MP is treasurer of the European Conservatives Group and the Democratic Alliance Group, which are both part of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which Mr Howell is a member.

The Oxford branch of the European Movement has called on him to resign his treasurer’s role, claiming other members include representatives from extreme right-wing parties that deny climate change and promote anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and nationalist policies.

They say the group has members who are involved with Poland’s Law and Justice Party, which opposes gay rights, and Vox in Spain, which it claims is anti-feminist.

Graham Jones, chairman of the branch, said: “These are parties out of step with traditional British Conservative values.

“Mr Howell is a decent man and must feel embarrassed rubbing shoulders with them.

“Given that the UK was a founding member of the Council of Europe after the war, creating our cross-party European Movement at the same time, is it really appropriate for his party to be associating with these unsavoury populist politicians and for him to be aiding their activities?

“I would ask him to think again and not only resign his role as its treasurer but also seek to have the Conservatives align with a different grouping that more closely reflects the values of the people in the constituency.”

The European Conservatives Group and the Democratic Alliance have 76 members from countries across Europe and the UK is among the most represented with 12 members.

Mr Howell said the Council of Europe had led the way in gender equality and in fighting racism and antisemitism.

He said: “I’m very disappointed that the European Movement, having lost the [Brexit] referendum and every general election since then, is trying to make an issue of something they’ve not even done the basic research on.

“There is no coalition and there is no joint membership between the European Conservatives and the Democratic Alliance.

“We operate as a group on certain issues in order to have voting power in the Council of Europe but we are two separate groups.

“Being involved on specific issues means that we have significant voting power in an organisation that is dominated by the left.

“There is no conflict of interest whatsoever. We do not co-operate on all issues, nor do I hold any extremist views.”

Meanwhile, Mr Howell presented the Flag of Honour to the Polish town of Minsk Mazowiecki on Sunday.

The flag is part of the Europa Prize given to a town which is particularly active in promoting the European ideals set out by the Council of Europe, including human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Speaking at the online ceremony, Mr Howell commented on the culture, sporting and educational exchanges that take place between the town and countries around Europe.

He said: “The town does a lot for young people and I strongly encourage it to continue to develop its European activities for its citizens and especially for young people.”

UK towns and cities which have won the Europa Prize include Coventry, Cockermouth and Wansbeck.

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