In the European Parliament’s recent vote on the rule of law in Hungary, the British Tories were the only governing conservative party in western Europe to oppose measures to censure Viktor Orbán.
At euronews, we believe all views matter. We asked British members of the European Parliament from different political parties to share their perspective on the vote.
We sent them severals questions: on the Conservatives’ decision to vote against triggering the Article 7 process, Orban’s support for Brexit, the rule of law in Hungary and Orban’s claim that the Sargentini report is an attempt to punish the Hungarian people.
A media spokesperson declined euronews’ invitation on behalf of the Conservative MEPs, adding that Daniel Dalton had already expressed his views in an article for the UK's Telegraph. Should any Conservatives wish to explain their position on euronews, we will publish it here.
This is what the British members of the European Parliament who answered had to say (for most of them, follow the links to read their full answers):
It’s clear there was a trade
Molly Scott Cato, Green MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, says the Tories’ support for Orbán seems to have come in exchange for his call for a good Brexit deal. It shows “the desperately weak position” the UK is left in after voting to leave the EU, she says, adding “our government is now cosying up to fascists.”
Orban’s actions are not a proxy for Brexit debate
Alex Mayer, Labour Party MEP for the East of England region, argues the Tories were wrong to see the Article 7 vote as a plebiscite on the rights of a nation to not be dictated to by the EU. “The British government has hard questions to answer if it believes Orbán’s actions are compatible with British values, let alone European ones,” she says.
Do Tories see democracy as a priority?
Julie Ward, Labour Party MEP for the North West England Region, says Brexit has left the Tories scrambling to find new allies, with hard-right Brexiteers ready to leave the EU at any cost. “Their disregard for the grave attacks on human rights, democracy and rule of law in Hungary and other countries, is further proof of how little they care about the fundamental values which protect lives,” she writes.
Tories looking more like UKIP
Mary Honeyball, Labour Party MEP for London says the Conservatives' vote against the Sargentini report appears to be a result of Orban backing the UK government over Brexit. These actions "show increasing similarity to UKIP who, it is well documented, almost always vote against progressive EU legislation in an effort to maintain its ideological antipathy to anything that's European," she adds.
Conservatives worried about criticising Hungary
Theresa Griffin, Labour MEP for the North West of England, says the Tories are condoning Viktor Orbán's actions by opposing measures against his hardline authoritarian government. "It is clear that at the highest levels of the Cabinet, Conservative politicians are worried about criticising Hungary in any way, because they want to secure favourable treatment in the Brexit negotiations," she writes.
Long list of questionable developments
Here are the answers we received from Richard Corbett, Labour Party MEP for Yorkshire and Humber:
Euronews: As an opposition MEP, what do you think of this choice of your Conservative colleagues?
Richard Corbett: Here are the links to the press statements we put out as a Labour delegation:
Euronews: Do you agree with those who say that the main reason for such a vote was Mr Orbán’s support in Brexit talks?
Richard Corbett: Yes, it probably was a factor.
Euronews: What is your opinion on the situation in Hungary and, in particular, on the rule of law in that country compared to other EU members?
Richard Corbett: Given the long list of questionable developments, it is legitimate for the EU to seek explanations and to respond as necessary.
Euronews: Do you agree with what Viktor Orbán wrote in his letter to British Conservative MEPs, saying that the Sargentini report “is a verdict against Hungary and the Hungarian people” and not a critic of his government and his policies?
Richard Corbett: No, it's not a verdict against Hungary. It is to start a procedure concerning actions of the Hungarian government. Those actions do not seem beneficial for the Hungarian people.
Orbán is no ally to be had
Jude Kirton-Darling, Labour Party MEP for the North East of England, says she was "genuinely shocked" at how many Tory MEPs followed the whip vote against the Sargentini report. "The decision by the UK government to back Orban’s despotism is absolutely disgraceful and shows how extreme today’s Conservative Party has become," writes Kirton-Darling.
Abstention would have sent a different message
Jean Lambert, Green Party MEP for London, says that since Hungary is the only country defending the UK Government in Brexit negotations, it seems dubious that the Conservatives who voted against the Sargentini report genuinely did so on the basis that the EU is encroaching on the sovereignty of a member state.
Fundamental rights, rule of law must be upheld in all EU countries
Catherine Stihler, Labour Party MEP for Scotland, writes: "Unlike most Tories, I was proud to stand up for our common European values and do what I can to prevent others from following the example set by Orbán's government."
Orban is not Hungray, like the Conservative Party is not the UK
Seb Dance, Deputy Leader of the European Parliamentary Labour Party says the Conservatives showed once again that their party cannot be trusted to protect the best interests of the UK and its closests allies. "Viktor Orban is not Hungary, just like the Conservative Party is not the UK, but both are guilty of using dangerous rhetoric damaging to their own countries and to relations with their neighbours."
Machiavellians put Brexit plans before human rights
Wajid Khan, Labour Party MEP for the North West of England, says the Conservatives think that the smartest thing they have done in the Brexit negotiation is to pivot away from the Commission and appeal to individual member states. "The Conservatives will stoop so low as to put their increasingly desperate Brexit plans before the defence of human rights on their own doorstep," he writes.
Opinions expressed in View articles are those of the authors.