Gordon Brown has accused the Conservatives of compromising British values and British influence by allying with “marginalised” figures in Europe accused of holding extremist antisemitic and homophobic views.
In a fiercely worded attack in an interview with the JC, the Prime Minister said the Opposition leader had abandoned the mainstream grouping of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in order to appease a section of “fanatical” Eurosceptic backbenchers.
Mr Brown significantly raised the temperature in the debate over the Tories’ allies in the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) grouping in Brussels.
The controversy over the ECR has been raging since Mr Cameron decided to leave the established European People’s Party and ally with right-wing nationalist parties in Europe. Matters reached a head when Mr Cameron invited Michal Kaminski, the Polish leader of the ECR to Conservative Party conference last year.
Mr Kaminski has consistently said that he does not believe the Polish people should collectively apologise for the massacre of Jews carried out at Jedwabne in north-east Poland during the Nazi era.
However, he has always denied claims that he is an antisemite and has a long record of support for Israel.
Mr Brown raised the case of former Czech Prime minister Mirek Topolanek, who was forced to resign as leader of the Civic Democrats (another Tory ECR ally) after making allegedly homophobic and antisemitic comments.
“These are the friends David Cameron has chosen, in order to satisfy the Eurosceptic wing of his party,” he said. “I think that demonstrates poor judgment, and that British voters should understand the compromises to British values and British influence that the Tories are prepared to make in order to appease a significant section of their fanatical backbenchers.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague responded furiously.
He said: “These are slurs from a Prime Minister who has no positive vision left to give.
Our allies are mainstream parties, like the party of the late President Kaczynski, the first Polish president to attend a service at a Polish synagogue, to celebrate Chanucah at the presidential palace and to support a Jewish history museum on Polish soil.
“As the head of the Federation of Czech Jewish Communities has said, Mirek Topolanek is ‘certainly not antisemitic’, neither is he homophobic.”
Mr Brown also blamed the Tories for blocking his attempts to amend the universal jurisdiction legislation that allows magistrates to issue arrest warrants for visiting Israeli politicians and military figures.
He said the Opposition chose to oppose the only Home Office bill that could have been used to push the legislation through before the election.
Within his own party, the Labour leader slammed as “totally unacceptable” comments by Labour Friends of Palestine chair Martin Linton, who warned of Israeli “tentacles” influencing the election.
Meanwhile, Mr Brown emphasised his unique claim among British politicians to be a friend of Israel by expressing his pride in being the first British Prime Minister to address the Knesset.
“As long as I am Prime Minister, Israel will always have the firmest of friends in the British government,” he said.
However, he called on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and conduct an inquiry into Operation Cast Lead.
The Prime Minister described the use of British passports in an operation of assassination against a Hamas commander in Dubai as a “serious breach of trust” but said it had not fundamentally damaged the relationship between Britain and Israel.
On the domestic front he attempted to reassure Jewish parents that the government was aware of concerns about the rise of antisemitism and radical Islam on campus. These would be addressed by the working group of university leaders headed by University College Provost, Professor Malcolm Grant.
However, he specifically ruled out making extra funds available for security around Jewish institutions including schools.