Theresa May aide Stephen Parkinson urged to resign after ‘outing’ gay whistleblower
A senior aide to Theresa May is facing calls to resign after revealing the sexuality of a whistleblower – who says his family in Pakistan have been put in danger.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s special adviser Stephen Parkinson came under fire over the weekend after he put out a statement via Downing Street revealing the sexuality of former Brexit campaigner Shahmir Sanni, who had come forward to expose alleged irregularities in the Vote Leave campaign.
Mr Sanni, who volunteered for the supposedly-independent BeLeave group, named Mr Parkinson as one of the Vote Leave officials who secretly guided their campaign in violation of electoral rules.
In his official statement released via Downing Street’s press office, Mr Parkinson hit back by revealing that he had been in a relationship with Mr Sanni at the time, claiming he had only provided advice to him as his boyfriend.
Mr Sanni says the public revelation has forced him to come out to his family in Pakistan, where homosexuality is illegal and strongly taboo – and has left his relatives living in fear of their safety.
Mr Parkinson is now facing questions about his future at Downing Street.
LGBT rights organisation Stonewall has branded the breach of privacy “inexcusable” and dangerous.
It said: “This public disclosure of Sanni’s sexuality was made without his consent. The severity of this breach of confidence cannot be underestimated.
“Telling someone about your sexuality or gender identity must always be a personal decision. No person has the right to take that decision away.
“Publicly outing someone robs that person of the chance to define who they are in their own terms if they even want to. In extreme cases – as in this one – it can also put the lives of that person and their loved ones in danger.
“Outing someone ignores the many valid reasons a person may have for not choosing to be open about their sexuality to every person in their life. Concerns about personal safety to fears about discrimination at work or in their place of worship all play a part in someone’s decision to come out.
“Some LGBT people are not out because of a real need to protect themselves. We do not live in a world that is accepting of everyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Not only does the world still have a long way to go, so does Britain, as this irresponsible indiscretion shows.”
It added: “What has happened to Shahmir Sanni is inexcusable. Outing someone can put lives at risk. We will always stand with and support all LGBT people, whether they are out or not.
“No LGBT person should ever have to live in fear that someone might tell the world about their sexuality or gender identity before they are ready. Only that person will know if they are comfortable and ready to come out.
“That choice and decision must always be respected.”
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Mr Sanni’s fellow whistleblower Chris Wylie called for Parkinson, who is Political Secretary to the Prime Minister, to resign.
Mr Wylie said: “Absolutely he should resign. He should resign for his actions in outing someone and endangering his family, and also for the fact he worked on a programme that resulted in cheating in the referendum.”
He added: “The Prime Minister’s office outed my friend. Number 10 Downing Street labelled ‘official statement’ to journalists around the world outing Shahmir Sanni, whose family in Pakistan had to take security measures for their own safety.
“He was forced to come out to his mum in the middle of the night because Downing Street decided it was appropriate for the government to out someone.”
Meanwhile, a group of 13 out LGBT MPs have signed a letter demanding action from Mrs May.
The group, which includes Angela Eagle, Chris Bryant and Stephen Doughty, wrote: “It is despicable for the office of Prime Minister to launch a vindicitive personal attack this way, and unacceptable for your office to out people in an attempt to discredit them.
“The statement was an abuse of power against a vulnerable young man and his family, and it demeans your office.
“We call on you to apologise to the young man in question and to sack the memebr of your staff responsible for this serious abuse of privileged position they hold.”
In his statement, Mr Parkinson had said: “Shahmir became an occasional volunteer for Vote Leave and other Leave campaigns, and we began a personal relationship.
“We subsequently dated for 18 months, splitting up — I thought amicably — in September 2017.
“That is the capacity in which I gave Shahmir advice and encouragement, and I can understand if the lines became blurred for him, but I am clear that I did not direct the activities of any separate campaign groups.”
Mr Sanni responded via an outraged statement through his solicitors.
He said: “It’s sad that Stephen feels he can’t tell the truth about cheating in the Referendum.
“I think he understands why I had to do the right thing and let people know what really happened.
“But I never imagined that he, with the help of Number 10, would choose to tell the world I am gay, in a last desperate attempt to scare me.”
He added: “This is something I’ve never told most of my friends or family, here or in Pakistan, some of whom are having to take measures to ensure their safety.
“He knew the danger it would cause, and that’s why he did it.
“My coming out should have happened at a moment of my choosing – not his or the Government’s.
“Some things are more important than politics and I hope that one day he agrees.”
In a subsequent statement, Mr Parkinson said: “I have seen the statements issued by Shahmir and his lawyers, and am saddened by them.
“They are factually incorrect and misleading.
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“My statement to Channel 4 News and The Observer was issued in my personal capacity and was solely a response to the serious and untrue allegations made against me by Shahmir, Chris Wylie, and others.
“It would be surprising if Shahmir, Mr Wylie, or those advising them thought I would be able to defend myself against those allegations without revealing my relationship with Shahmir. Sadly, the allegations they have chosen to make are so serious that I have been compelled to do so.
“I cannot see how our relationship, which was ongoing at the time of the referendum and which is a material fact in the allegations being made, could have remained private once Shahmir decided to publicise his false claims in this way.”
Despite Mr Parkinson claiming his statement was issued in a “personal capacity”, several journalists have come forward with proof that the statement ‘outing’ Mr Sanni was directly released via the Downing Street press office.
Guardian writer Carole Cadwalladr shared a screenshot which shows the statement was sent via email by Kirsty Buchanan, Downing Street’s Head of Broadcast media, from an official Downing Street email address.
She wrote: “This is absolutely indefensible. Number 10’s press office outed a 24-year-old man against his will. Think about it. This was sanctioned and approved by Theresa May’s government.”