Wells abuse row: Mask has slipped, says Clegg

Nick Clegg refused to rule out working with the DUP at Westminster
Nick Clegg refused to rule out working with the DUP at Westminster

The Liberal Democrat leader has said the “mask has slipped” after controversial comments made by DUP Health Minister Jim Wells about gay marriage and child abuse.

Speaking at a campaign event in the Sheffield Hallam seat he hopes to retain on May 7, Nick Clegg said: “I think these comments have lifted the lid on some really unpleasant views, the mask has slipped.”

But Mr Clegg sidestepped questions on whether he would rule out relying on the support of the DUP in government.

“I’m not seeking alliances with the DUP,” he said. “The Conservative Party, or significant parts of it, are actively seeking alliances with people who have these regressive, backward-looking views.”

SDLP Assembly member Colum Eastwood, whose party has tabled a motion of no confidence, said: “Not satisfied with his already robust opposition to equality for those who define as LGBT, Mr Wells has gone far beyond the limits of acceptable behaviour.

“To suggest that children raised by gay parents are more likely to be abused is a baseless slur on an entire community.”

Alliance leader David Ford said a resignation would be meaningless without a “sea change” in attitudes within the DUP.

“If this had been a minister from a party in any other part of the UK, even from the so-called more extreme wings, they would have already resigned,” he said.

“Yet Peter Robinson has defended Mr Wells. That raises serious questions.

“However, one minister’s resignation will mean nothing if he is replaced by someone with the same values. The DUP need to take a long look at their policies and attitudes, and question them deeply.”

Earlier this week Prime Minister David Cameron, when challenged on the possible need to rely on DUP votes in Westminster, said he would “never validate” the party’s stance on LGBT issues.

Mr Cameron said he “profoundly disagreed” with those DUP policies.