The Conservative Party has joined with the Polish Law and Justice Party in Europe, it was announced today.
The Polish party has been accused of homophobia, antisemitism and racism.
Tory MEPs will be part of a 55-member “anti-federalist” political group in the European Parliament.
The new group, called the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, comprises 26 Conservative MEPs, 15 MEPs from Poland’s Law and Justice Party and nine MEPs from the Czech Republic’s ODS (Civil Democrats) party, along with five others from Belgium, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Latvia.
David Cameron had controversially pledged to form a new bloc large enough to qualify for full recognition in Strasbourg. If parties form such groups rather than sitting alone as countries, they qualify for the most administrative back-up, funding, committee places and parliamentary speaking time.
It is thought that the European Conservatives and Reformists Group will be the fourth largest bloc in the European parliament, although the party is still seeking new allies.
The Law and Justice Party, headed by the nation’s president Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has a reputation for homophobia. Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in 2008: “The affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilisation. We can’t agree to it.”
One of the party’s senior MPs is reported to have described the election of Barack Obama as marking the “end of white man’s civilisation”. He has now been disowned by the party. Law and Justice has also banned gay Pride marches, calling them obscene.
However, shadow foreign secretary William Hague told the BBC that criticisms that the party is homophobic are “out of date and ill-informed”.
“The Law and Justice Party in Poland is a party that is committed to be against discrimination, for equality under the law. Its president has been praised for actually promoting greater tolerance in Polish society, so that is actually the true position,” he said.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk: “This is further evidence that the Conservatives have not really changed. Most of their MPs have voted against recent equality legislation. Now they are joining up with a Polish party that is homophobic, which has strong links with a misogynistic, antisemitic Catholic radio station Radio Maryja.
“Until the Tories break this link, no self-respecting LGBT person should ever vote for them. David Cameron’s gay-friendly words mean nothing when his party colludes with homophobes.”
Labour MEP Michael Cashman, who is openly gay, said: “It comes as no surprise considering the Tories’ voting record in European Parliament on equality.
“They are lining up with parties such as Law and Justice in Parliament who have an appalling record on equality measures in general and lesbian and gay measures in particular.
“I’ve been saying for many years that despite Cameron’s cosy rhetoric, their voting record has not changed one iota.”
A Conservative spokesman denied that the Polish party are homophobic, saying: “As Law and Justice have repeatedly said, they are fully committed to human rights and equality under the law, and object to all forms of discrimination, whether on grounds of race, sex or sexual orientation.”
In May, Adam Bielan MEP of the Law and Justice Party responded to accusations of antisemitism in a letter to the Guardian.
He said: “Law and Justice have a record on fighting anti-Semitism any party in Europe would envy. In December last year its most senior figure, the President of Poland Lech Kaczynski, became the first Polish head of state ever to attend a Jewish service in a synagogue in Poland. As the Israeli paper Ha’aretz writes: ‘Mr Kaczynski has long been a friend to the Jewish community’.”
Bielan added: “Labour has never apologised for sitting with people from a minor Polish party, Polish Self-Defence, whose leader has praised Adolf Hitler, or explained what on earth they’ve been doing allying with them in the European Parliament.”