Schools minister in veiled swipe at Esther McVey amid bitter LGBT teaching row
A government minister has taken a thinly-veiled swipe at Conservative leadership hopeful Esther McVey after she said parents should be able to withdraw their children from lessons about LGBT relationships.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said neither Tory members or the wider public would be "impressed" by candidates "siding with" parents who did not want their children to learn about same-sex partnerships.
The intervention from Mr Gibb, who is gay and married, comes after months of protests outside a school in Birmingham over equality lessons.
The group of parents and campaigners outside Anderton Park School have argued that their children are too young to learn about LGBT relationships, with some claiming that the lessons contradict Islam.
Wading into the row earlier this month, Ms McVey said: "I’m very clear, the final say is with the parents.
"And if parents want to take their young children, at a primary school, out of certain forms of sex education, relationship education, then that is down to them."
But Mr Gibb took aim at those backing the parents in an article for The Times, as he also trained his fire on Brexit Party MEP Anne Widdecombe for a "deeply offensive" claim that "science might be able to produce an answer" to being gay.
Mr Gibb said he had tried to keep "politics out of the dispute in Birmingham", with the Department for Education working "tirelessly behind the scenes to defuse the issues that lie behind the protests".
But he said it was "now time for me to speak out".
"Politicians have a responsibility to speak with sensitivity on such important matters and not to fan the flames of hate and prejudice," he said.
"As the Conservative Party starts the process of electing our new leader, I very much doubt that party members or the wider public (a much larger number) will be impressed by any candidate or their supporters siding with those who object to pupils being taught that same-sex relationships are normal and lawful."
The minister also talked up the Tories' wider record on equality, saying the Conservatives were "made up of people from all backgrounds" and "not a party of bigots".
"It was the Conservative Party, under the leadership of David Cameron, that brought forward legislation to give same-sex couples the right to marry and recent polling shows that most Conservative members support and are comfortable with this important and liberating change," he said.
Ms McVey's comments have previously attracted criticism from Tory former Cabinet minister Justine Greening, who said: "You can’t pick and choose on human rights and equality. Children should understand a modern and diverse Britain they’re growing up in."
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd also waded into the row, arguing that a "modern" Conservative party "should not just be proud of our LGBT+ achievements, but champion them".
Labour's Shadow Education Secretary meanwhile said Ms McVey "was not fit to be a candidate for PM and not fit to be an MP".