Emily Thornberry: Boot countries which persecute LGBT+ people out of the Commonwealth

Posted On: 
4th July 2019

Commonwealth countries that persecute same-sex couples should be kicked out of the organisation, Emily Thornberry has warned. 

Emily Thornberry said Brunei had not gone far enough
Credit: 
PA

The Shadow Foreign Secretary said that the UK had the responsibility to show global leadership on LGBT+ rights.

She said countries which belong to the Commonwealth which refuse to to abolish "draconian laws punishing same-sex relationships" should be stripped of their membership.

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In particular, she highlighted the example of Brunei, which introduced the death penalty for adultery and sex between men earlier this year.

Addressing a Westminster reception for PinkNews, Ms Thornberry said: "If that Commonweath of nations means anything, if the Commonwealth Charter means anything, then we must use our time as chair of the equal rights coalition not just to persuade more Commonwealth countries to join it, but to demand that any Commonwealth country, which still has draconian laws punishing same-sex relationships, either abolishes those laws, or will be expelled if they do not. 

“And that must start with Brunei.”

An international outcry forced the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, to backtrack on the enforcement of the country's new law - but Ms Thornberry said that did not go far enough.

She told PoliticsHome: “I know they have done a U-turn but I don’t think they have done enough. 

“I think they need to go further and so my view would be if I was Foreign Secretary at the moment, I would be agitating for Brunei to go further and with a threat of being chucked out unless they do it.”

She added: “We would have to talk to them and we’d have to say to them exactly in what way have you done a U-turn? Are there still traces here? Because if there are still problems then we’re not on your side, we’re not on your side.

“We need you to have clear laws where people who are gay in Brunei don’t feel as though they need to be defensive and protect themselves and don’t feel that they could be arrested or attacked in the streets.”

Meanwhile, Environment Secretary Michael Gove used the PinkNews event to condemn the protests by some parents in Birmingham at LGBT+ education, and called for an overhaul of hate crime legislation to make attacks based on gender or sexuality an aggravated offence.

He said: “We need to recognise prejudice is being particularly directed at trans people in our society. Two in five trans people are victims of hate crimes and similarly two in five trans people have contemplated at different times in their life self-harm as a consequence of the prejudice they have faced, and that’s why the government review is so important.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock also said the his department was looking at reforms which would allow same-sex couples to have IVF treatment on the NHS.

He said: “I commit to you this evening that we have begun a review inside the Department of Health into IVF equality.

“We have begun that review and let us see it through to fruition.”

“There is so much more we need to do as a nation, each part of Government, each part of society has its role to play, and I, like so many of my colleagues, pledge to you that we will do our bit.”