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Equalities minister quits, citing ‘atmosphere of hostility’ for LGBT+ people

Conservative Mike Freer has resigned from his post as equalities minister (Jacob King/PA)
Conservative Mike Freer has resigned from his post as equalities minister (Jacob King/PA)

Mike Freer has resigned from his post as equalities minister, as he accused the Government of creating an “atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people”.

The minister is the latest in a string of parliamentarians to quit, telling Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a letter that he “can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with”.

His resignation follows that of Kemi Badenoch, who stepped down as equalities and local government minister “with great regret” earlier on Wednesday.

And it comes shortly after he told MPs that “elements” of Parliament have issues with transgender people.

But he told the Women and Equalities Committee much of this is down to misinformation or lack of knowledge, and he believes Parliament is “on the whole” not transphobic.

He told the committee on Wednesday afternoon: “My fundamental belief is that Parliament is an accepting place, rightly is a questioning place.

“And I have no problems with those colleagues who don’t understand, or have genuine concerns, and many of the concerns I’ve discussed with colleagues are very genuine concerns, often from a position of lack of knowledge.

“So can I hand on heart say that everybody in Parliament is not transphobic? No, clearly I can’t.

“Clearly we have a very heated debate going on within Parliament. Some people may have their own agenda, but I think on the whole Parliament is not transphobic, but we have a lot more work to do, to educate and also to ensure that colleagues have their concerns respectfully listened to and hopefully addressed.”

Mr Freer said he does his best to call out ministerial colleagues who have “got it wrong” and “won’t tolerate any colleagues who seek to weaponise the LGBT community for a particular culture war”.

But he does not think people “realise the harm they can cause or the distress they can cause”.

He said it is sad that toxic debate drowns out much of the good work MPs are getting on with behind the scenes and previous achievements on LGBT rights.

He said: “And yet we allow own goals that blow us off course and poison the well and hurt the community for, sometimes for an easy headline.

“And … weaponising any element of the LGBT+ community for a quick headline which then allows the whole Government programme to be blown off course, I think is just something I find very difficult to deal with.”

Asked if he has optimism there is appetite in Government to repair the relationship with the LGBT community, he replied: “If I didn’t have any optimism, I wouldn’t come into work every day.”

Mr Freer resigned from his positions as minister for exports and minister for equalities just over an hour later.

In his letter he thanked Mr Johnson for his personal support, but said:  “However, I feel that we are moving away from the One Nation Conservative party I joined, not least in creating an atmosphere of hostility for LGBT+ people and I regret can no longer defend policies I fundamentally disagree with.”

He added that he felt “we have let down our constituents and our supporters”.