• Zahradil, an acolyte of eurosceptic Czech leader Vaclav Klaus (Photo: zahradil.eu)

UK Tories lose leadership of parliament group

09.03.11 @ 09:28

  1. By Leigh Phillips

BRUSSELS - A Czech climate sceptic, Jan Zahradil, has won the leadership of the UK Tories' political grouping in the European Parliament, defeating a moderate British Conservative.

The British centre-right has again lost out the chief position in their ideological vehicle, the European Conservatives and Reformists, that broke away from the main centre-right and Chrisitian-Democrat-dominated political family, the European People's Party, in 2009, out of frustration at its support for European federalism.

Mr Zahadril, an acolyte of eurosceptic Czech leader Vaclav Klaus, defeated MEP Timothy Kirkhope, an ally of British Prime Minister but a moderate on European integration.

Mr Kirkhope, a former minister in the John Major government, and three times leader of the Tory group of MEPs, should have been a shoe-in for leader, given the Tories dominance of the ECR group.

But the Czech MEP, also known for his promotion of The Great Climate Change Swindle, a discredited anti-climate-change documentary, managed to win over sufficient numbers of the Tories, who, with 25 MEPs, easily outnumber all the other parties that make up the ECR.

In an email crowing about the result, Labour Party MEP Glenis Willmott said: "this result shows that Cameron has not only burned his party's bridges with the mainstream right in Europe, he doesn't even carry the support of the MEPs inside his new alliance."

The outgoing leader, Polish MEP Michal Kaminski, left the Law and Justice party (Pis) for what he felt were growing hard-right views in the group.

The defeat of the third leading candidate, Ryszard Legutko - also from the PiS, is something of a consolation prize to Mr Cameron however, for Mr Legutko's strident anti-gay stance is at odds with the British Tories' new embrace of gay rights.

Notorious for describing homosexuals as "faggots", Mr Legutko is also the author of a book entitled "Why I am not tolerant", supports a ban on abortion and opposes sex education in schools.

Tory MEP Dan Hannan, a climate sceptic and outspoken critic of European integration himself, cheered the result on his blog on Wednesday morning, calling Mr Zahradil a "a cerebral Czech conservative,.. a free-marketeer, a Eurosceptic, a libertarian, a flinty Czech patriot who is also a committed Anglophile and Atlanticist."

He also attacked the left for criticising his views on global warming: "So far, the best that his detractors have come up with is that he is a "climate change sceptic", by which they mean that he deviates in parts from the Rio-Kyoto-Copenhagen-Cancun agenda."

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