WATCH: Michael Gove refuses to condemn hardline Hungarian PM Viktor Orban in row over EU censure
Tory minister Michael Gove has refused to condemn controversial Hungarian PM Viktor Orban - instead choosing to show the strongman “generosity of spirit”.
The Environment Secretary suggested laying into Mr Orban - who has branded migration a “poison” and migrants “invaders” - could hinder UK attempts to get a good Brexit deal from the EU.
Conservative MEPs were taken to task this week after a number of them voted to protect the Hungarian premier from censure by the bloc for his authoritarian behaviour.
The motion for disciplinary action against the regime was neverheless passed, following accusations of racism, anti-Semitism, restricting press freedom and undermining judicial independence.
Tackled on the Tory approach this morning on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, Mr Gove insisted the MEPs were simply refusing to give the green light for the EU to meddle in the domestic affairs of a member state.
He said: “It’s not for me to rank a league table of EU leaders and to say that one is my favourite or that one have less time for.
“Because I believe in cooperative diplomacy - I believe in generosity of spirit towards EU partners.”
And he added: “I have views but I’m not going to be drawn on my views about individual European leaders.
“I think it would be wrong for me - at a time when we need solidarity against a number of different threats - we need to make sure that our voice is clear; our position on these issues is absolutely clear and resonant.
“I don’t believe that individual criticisms... necessarily help us in ensuring that we get both solidarity on the issues that count and the best deal for Britain as we leave the European Union.”
Labour MP David Lammy accused Mr Gove of showing “complete moral bankruptcy” over the issue.
He told PoliticsHome: "Gove's repeated refusal to condemn Orban this morning, as the Hungarian PM trashes press freedom and judicial independence, demonstrates that the failure to distinguish between wrong and right runs to the very top of our government.
"Gove suggested we treat Orban with 'generosity of spirit,' but the Hungarian PM shows no such spirit to the migrants he describes as 'a poison' or the refugees he describes as 'Muslim invaders'."
Tory bosses have denied the MEPs voted against the censure motion in order to win Hungary's support in the Brexit negotiations - after top Jewish and Muslim groups piled in to condemn them.
A Conservative spokesman said this week: "Viktor Orban has a track record of responding to legal moves not political threats.
"Politicising the issue at this early stage simply undermines any future legal action, while boosting Orban's domestic support."