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Sunday, November 8, 1998 Published at 17:00 GMT

UK Politics

Cabinet rallies around gay minister

Brown: Set to keep his position

Cabinet colleagues have been quick to voice their support for Agriculture Minister Nick Brown, who has revealed he is gay.

Political reporter Eve Conway: Mr Brown has the support of colleagues and constituents
Their backing for Mr Brown closely follows the line set by Prime Minister Tony Blair, who declared he was standing by his minister.

By lending Mr Brown its full support, the government's line appears to be that "errors of judgement" may be a resigning issue for ministers, but their sexuality is not.

[ image: Blair: Backing Brown]
Blair: Backing Brown
Mr Blair's official spokesman said the prime minister was "satisfied" with Mr Brown's account of his relationship with a former male partner.

It was his former partner's attempts to sell a story about the relationship to the News of the World newspaper which forced Mr Brown to publicly declare his sexuality and to deny he had paid for sex with the man.

Cabinet praises 'dignity'

Ministers praised Mr Brown for his "dignity" over the revelations.

Gordon Brown: Support right across Parliament
Chancellor Gordon Brown told the BBC One's On the Record: "I think most people understand this to be a personal issue and a private issue, and I think they will applaud the way that Nick Brown has handled these matters with dignity."

This was the line also taken by Alun Michael. He has recently replaced as Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, who resigned after allegedly refusing to give Mr Blair all the details surrounding his "lapse of judgement" on Clapham Common.

Alun Michael: Hopes there is no witchhunt
Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme, Mr Michael said: "Nick Brown has reacted openly and with dignity and with honesty to a report that was put to him."

'Unsubstantiated allegations'

Mr Brown had issued a statement through Downing Street in which he promised his constituents "that there is nothing in my past or present to give them any doubt in my ability to serve them and the government".

He said his former partner had tried to sell "unsubstantiated allegations" about the nature of their relationship.

"These include the allegation that I paid him for sex," he said.

"I deny totally that I paid money for sex. I have never done so."

He added: "As in any other friendship, there were gifts. As I earned more than he did, and as this was a genuine friendship, there were occasions when I gave him small sums of money as gifts of friendship.

"I did not do so regularly. I certainly never did so for sex."

The Editor of the News of the World, Phil Hall, defended his newspaper's conduct.

"The News of the World approached Downing Street after a young man gave us an unsubstantiated account of a relationship with Nick Brown," he said.

"Mr Brown then volunteered a statement to the News of the World which we have published in full. We have not published the young man's account in any form."

'Outing' of MP condemned

Gay rights groups have spoken out, believing that Mr Brown was cornered into revealing his sexuality.

Peter Tatchell, of the group OutRage!, said: "There is no justification for outing MPs unless they are believing in ways that are hypocritical or homophobic."

Mr Brown's public pronouncements were consistent with his private behaviour, he said.

Stonewall's executive director Angela Mason said that in the wake of this latest revelation and the Ron Davies affair, "Lesbians and gays in public life are fair game. It's going to be hunt the gay.

"I think we have to say that's got to stop and people have an absolute right to their own privacy."

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