Labour MP Chris Bryant has claimed he is the victim of a homophobic smear campaign by the Russian Embassy in London after a website published an old image of him wearing just his underwear.
According to the Telegraph, Mr Bryant believes the embassy influenced the decision of the Conservative Friends of Russia (CFR) website to publish an article with the photograph.
The image dates back to 2003 when Mr Bryant was discovered to have posed wearing only his underpants on gay dating site, Gaydar.
The shadow immigration minister is also the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Russia and the CFR article criticised his chairmanship of the group and said it could be disbanded after failing to hold an annual general meeting.
In response, Mr Bryant tweeted from his account @ChrisBryantMP “I gather the Conservative Friends of Russia have covered themselves in homophobic glory.
“Clearly [they] would prefer a Putin patsy to run the all party group on Russia. Did the embassy pay for them?”
The Twitter account of CFR responded by saying: “Why is it homophobic to see a man in underwear?”
He told the Telegraph:
“Using that charming, beautiful photo of me from way back when and saying something like ‘he knows how to enjoy himself’ was puerile, verging on homophobic, and not really what you would expect of an organisation that has a former foreign secretary as its honorary president.
“I think it was intended to be taking the mickey out of me on the basis of my sexuality.”
Mr Bryant added: “I’ve been told by two Tory MPs that the Russian ambassador has suggested to them that they should get rid of me as chair of the group because I’m gay”.
On Friday afternoon, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary, resigned as honorary president of Conservative Friends of Russia.
A spokesman for the Tory MP said that he was “very unhappy” with the article about Mr Bryant and the direction of CFR in general.
The spokesman added that the article was a “personal attack over a trivial matter” but said Mr Bryant’s suggestion of links between the group and the Russian Embassy was a “slightly childish counter-accusation”.
Conservative Friends of Russia insisted it received no funding from the Russian state and was acting independently.
They have denied Mr Bryant’s allegations.