Downing Street has defended Boris Johnson’s visit to a church that the leader of the Labour Party was criticised for visiting due to its attitudes towards homosexuality.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer came under fire from within his own party and apologised for the “hurt” caused by his visit to Jesus House For All The Nations church in Brent, north London.
Sir Keir said that he accepted it was a “mistake” to visit the church, which has opened its premises up as a vaccination centre, but stressed that he was “not aware” of the establishment’s views on LGBT+ rights.
This prompted questions about the Prime Minister’s visit a month ago, with his press secretary Allegra Stratton asked by reporters on Tuesday whether Mr Johnson had any regrets following criticism of the church.
She told a Westminster briefing: “We remember the visit to Jesus House well, because that day it was the site of a pop-up centre for vaccines.
“And one of the main jobs inside Government over the last few weeks and months has been driving up vaccine take-up in communities that are hesitant about taking it, most notably the black community.
“That was the purpose of his visit that day. It was a profitable visit where he was able to meet black community leaders and work to increase vaccine take-up and deal with vaccine hesitancy.
“So it was an incredibly important visit. Making sure every aspect of the population feels confident in and takes the vaccine is a top priority for this Government.”
She added: “This is a government that is fully committed to advancing LGBT rights and championing equality.”
Sir Keir apologised on Monday after facing criticism for posting a video online highlighting his visit on Friday.
“I completely disagree with Jesus House’s beliefs on LGBT+ rights, which I was not aware of before my visit,” the Labour leader tweeted.
“I apologise for the hurt my visit caused and have taken down the video. It was a mistake and I accept that.”
The church’s senior pastor, Agu Irukwu, has previously attracted controversy for his comments on LGBT+ rights – having spoken out against same-sex marriage and equality legislation.
The Labour Campaign for LGBT+ Rights had branded Sir Keir’s visit and subsequent social media endorsement of the church’s work as “unacceptable”.
Following the party leader’s apology, the group tweeted: “Thank you Keir Starmer.
“We are pleased that you have recognised and apologised for this mistake.
“We look forward to working with you to end conversion therapy and achieve equality for LGBT+ people.”
After raising the matter with the leader’s office, the group said last week that it had received an “unreserved apology” and would be holding a further meeting to ensure it did not happen again.
In the now-deleted video, Sir Keir praised Jesus House as a “wonderful example” of a church serving its community during the coronavirus pandemic – including acting as a vaccination centre.
“From rolling out the vaccine to running the local food bank, Jesus House, like many other churches across the UK, has played a crucial role in meeting the needs of the community,” he said.
In 2017, Theresa May was criticised when she visited the church, although Mr Johnson and the Prince of Wales have both been to the pop-up vaccination centre there in recent weeks without attracting widespread comment.
Labour sources said Sir Keir’s visit was also focused on the vaccination centre – although the video did show him apparently praying with the pastor.