New Liberal Democrat MP Phillip Lee tried to stop asylum seekers with HIV from entering the country
In a day of high drama and high-stakes, Boris Johnson lost his working majority in parliament when a Conservative rebel with a ‘homophobic’ voting record quit the party to join the Liberal Democrats.
As Phillip Lee walked across the House of Commons to sit next to Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, his defection quickly ignited a revolt within the party over the MP’s poor record on LGBT+ rights.
The new Lib Dem MP is a longstanding critic of marriage equality and even ran a campaign to block people living with HIV from being able to enter the UK.
Following the European elections earlier this year, the Lib Dem party has resurged by positioning itself as an unequivocally anti-Brexit party.
Phillip Lee attempted to bar people living with HIV from the UK.
In 2013, the MP for Blackwell abstained from the historical vote on marriage equality, according to his voting records.
Moreover, Phillip Lee personally tabled an amendment to the Immigration Bill in January 2014 that would force people applying for visas to disclose their HIV status.
Asylum seekers would also have to reveal whether they live with Hepatitis B and “other pathogens as the secretary of state may prescribe by order under this section,” according to parliamentary business records.
“Persons who apply for immigration permission must demonstrate that they are not carriers,” the proposed law text drawn up by Lee read.
The amendment – which was also signed by the foreign secretary Dominic Raab – was widely slammed by LGBT+ campaigners at the time.
“This amendment shows that there remains a shameful lack of understanding about HIV among some of our elected representatives,” National AIDS Trust chief executive Deborah Jack said in a 2014 statement.
Lee has also proposed that NHS patients suffering from lifestyle-related diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, should be made to pay for their prescriptions.
Lee, a former doctor, stood by his history. On BBC News last night, he responded to concerns flagged by critics: “I would point out to those individuals that they’re defaming my character and they should be careful about what they say.
“The amendment they are referring to was an attempt to reduce something called viral load, to reduce the HIV carriage in Great Britain, that actually would protect the gay community.”
LGBT+ Lib Dems: “We are very troubled by his previous public voting record.”
As a civil war breaks within the Conservative party benches, Phillip Lee’s manoeuvre generated shockwaves within LGBT+ Lib Dems.
Escalating with LGBT+ Liberal Democrats chairperson Jennie Riggs resigning her membership from the party and their position in the caucus.
Zoe O’Connell, acting chair of the LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, told PinkNews: “Unfortunately, LGBT+ Liberal Democrats were not informed of Phillip Lee’s defection before it had happened.
“Given our party both welcomes immigrants and supports making PrEP available on the NHS throughout the UK, we are very troubled by his previous public voting record and views on same-sex marriage, HIV and providing drugs for conditions he views as lifestyle choices.
“Lee’s comments made on the BBC just hours after his defection that he stands by his widely-condemned views from 2014 on HIV testing immigrants have done nothing to allay the fears of our members.
“I have today written to Jo Swinson MP, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and chief whip Alastair Carmichael, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss our concerns.”
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Furthermore, LGBT+ activists voiced their condemnation of Lee across Twitter as his voting record aggravates party allegiances.
“I am not here for any take which portrays a rampant homophobe who tried to block same sex marriage as a ‘hero’,” wrote one user.
He added: “This is seriously insulting to LGBTQ people.”
Owen Jones, LGBT+ rights campaigner and journalist, tweeted: “In accepting Phillip Lee, the Lib Dems – a party recently led by someone who believes gay sex is a sin – have embraced a politician who refused to back equal marriage and wanted to stop ill people entering the country.
“Really, really grim.”
However, Swinson, who has not yet commented on Lee’s record, welcomed the new member in a statement.
She said: “I am delighted to welcome Phillip to the Liberal Democrats at this crucial time.
“He brings almost 10 years of Parliamentary experience and decades of professional expertise. He shares our commitment to prevent a disastrous no-deal Brexit, and to stop Brexit altogether.”