Liam Fox has been widely condemned after suggesting that the UK has “shared values” with the Philippines after meeting with the country’s president, who has personally bragged about shooting and throwing people out of a helicopter.
The international trade secretary, whose department was created after the EU referendum to promote worldwide trade, made the comment as he called for closer ties with the nation.
Under Rodrigo Duterte’s crackdown on drugs, more than 7,000 people have been killed, according to police figures.
The president himself has personally urged the public to kill drug addicts, who he said he would be “happy to slaughter” in their millions.
Duterte has also threatened to burn down the United Nations, called Barack Obama a “son of a whore” and compared himself to Adolf Hitler.
But that did not stop Fox from writing an article for the Philippines’ Business World, in which he said: “The UK and the Philippines have a well-established and strong relationship built on a foundation of shared values and shared interests and we want this partnership to continue to flourish.”
Fox’s comments came ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May’s meeting with King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
The comment incensed many online who suggested Fox was now “so low that limbo dancers must envy him”.
Labour MP Harriet Harman, chairwoman of the joint committee on human rights, told the Guardian: “There is a real danger that in our desperation to conclude trade deals respect for human rights, which is in every EU contract, will just go out of the window.
“The Government must not let that happen.”
Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner added that Fox’s comments were “frankly shocking”, the Press Association reported.
“I’m sorry, but we do not have these shared common values with president Duterte who wants to bring back the death penalty and lower the age of criminal responsibility to nine,” he said.
Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Tom Brake added: “Duterte is one of the 21st century’s most sinister leaders and Liam Fox has flown halfway around the world to grovel to him.
“The fact that the first visit made by Fox since triggering Article 50 is to the Philippines shows just how low this government is willing to stoop in order to secure even a minimal trade deal in the future.
“No amount of pandering to corrupt regimes can replace our membership of the single market, which is why the Liberal Democrats will continue to fight against the hard, divisive Brexit this government is pursuing.”
A Department of International Trade spokesman said closer ties would help Britain to address areas of concern.
He said: “We do not shy away from confronting barriers to trade and investment - including issues of human rights and corruption.
“Greater knowledge and understanding of one another will increase our ability to address those issues that concern us.”