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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Michael Savage and Lisa O'Carroll in Brussels

Sunak urged to stop Braverman speaking alongside far right at Brussels convention

Suella Braverman
Suella Braverman speaks in the House of Commons in December 2023. Photograph: Maria Unger/UK PARLIAMENT/AFP/Getty Images

Rishi Sunak is being urged to stop his former home secretary from attending a rightwing convention featuring figures who have been under investigation for extremism, in the latest sign of his waning control of his party.

Suella Braverman, who has been a central plotter against the prime minister since she left the cabinet, is set to be one of the keynote speakers at the National Conservatism (NatCon) conference in Brussels this week.

Also appearing at the gathering will be controversial figures from the populist right from across the globe. They include Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister and a key ally of Russian president Vladamir Putin. In 2020, Tory MP Daniel Kawczynski was reprimanded during Boris Johnson’s Conservative leadership for attending the NatCon event in Rome, where Orbán was also a speaker.

Others expected to take the stage this year include Hans-Georg Maaßen , the former German spy chief who last year revealed he was under investigation by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution for suspected rightwing extremism. Maaßen was forced from office in 2018 after he appeared to question the authenticity of a video showing far-right violence at a festival. He has since written an article comparing migrants with cancer.

Also on the speakers’ list are Rod Dreher, an American writer who argued that the Christchurch mosque gunman who killed 51 people in 2019 did have “legitimate, realistic concerns” about “declining numbers of ethnic Europeans”; Ryszard Legutko, a Polish politician who has said he does not “understand why anyone should want to be proud of being a homosexual”; and Uzay Bulut, a Turkish political analyst who said that London “appears to be a striking case of the Islamisation of a major western capital through mass migration”.

No action is yet being taken against Braverman over her attendance. She left the government in November after clashes with No 10, following her suggestion that being homeless was a “lifestyle choice” and writing an article that was critical of the police, without first having it cleared by Downing Street.

When Kawczynski attended a similar event, the party did not remove the whip but did give him a formal warning that his attendance “was not acceptable, particularly in light of the views of some of those in attendance, which we utterly condemn, and that he is expected to hold himself to higher standards”.

In a letter to Sunak, Labour’s shadow paymaster general, Jonathan Ashworth, called on the PM to take action before a UK politician took the stage alongside figures with “damaging, divisive and offensive views”.

“Britain’s former home secretary, someone you appointed, plans to stand side by side with the global far-right in Brussels,” he wrote. “The prospect of a senior Tory politician demeaning the great office she held, and the country she represents, shows just how far the once-great party of Churchill has fallen on your watch.

“Last month, you recognised that extremist groups were ‘trying to tear us [the UK] apart’ in an unprecedented address outside Downing Street, accusing both Islamist and far right groups of ‘spreading a poison, that poison is extremism’.

“Now, by giving oxygen to these divisive and dangerous individuals, Suella Braverman is legitimising fringe far-right elements that threaten our cohesion and democracy. You must have the courage of your convictions and block her from attending.”

“We deeply regret that Edificio – which operates the Concert Noble where the conference is supposed to take place – tolerates such an event on their premises,” Camille, an activist at the Belgian Antifascist Coordination (CAB) who did not give their surname, said in an interview with the Brussels Times.

“They claim to abide by the values of ‘respect and sustainability’ and ‘making this precious cultural heritage accessible to the public’, while also receiving more than €100,000 in public money. Then they allow a dictator like Viktor Orbán to gain influence.”

But yesterday the conference appeared to be at risk of cancellation after the host venue pulled out, citing security threats following protests by a Belgian anti-fascist group. A spokesperson for the event said it would go ahead with a new venue, yet to be confirmed. Frank Furedi, executive director of one of the organisers, the MCC Brussels think-tank which is backed by the Hungarian government, said: “What has happened in these last few days represents nothing less than a crisis for free speech and political expression for all of Europe.

“It is an absolute tragedy that cancel culture has been welcomed into Brussels in the very heart of the European Union. Everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should be concerned about what is happening here.”

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