Almost 100 MPs Sign Motion Condemning BA As Backlash Grows
A powerful army of nearly 100 MPs joined the growing backlash against British Airways over its decision to ban the cross. It came amid signs that the campaign to force BA into retreat over its treatment of check-in worker Nadia Eweida was spreading across the world.
Customers using BA’s lucrative routes to America and Africa have vowed to use other airlines in protest.
Miss Eweida’s case is also being cited as an example of religious oppression at a top-level United Nations conference.
UN human rights chiefs will raise the issue alongside death sentences for critics of Islam in Pakistan and forced conversions of Muslims to Buddhism in Burma at a conference in Prague.
And Christian student leaders – who are caught up in a row over their right to declare their faith to Jesus at universities – said Miss Eweida had fallen victim to the same “secular fundamentalism” that has targeted their own activities.
The University and Colleges Christian Fellowship, national umbrella body for the Christian groups, said BA’s ban was “ridiculous.”
But the extraordinary protest was in stark contrast to the silence from the Archbishop of Canterbury – who raised eyebrows by accepting VIP treatment from the airline on a flight to Rome.
A staggering total of 92 MPs – one seventh of the House Commons – from all parties have signed parliamentary motions condemning BA’s “deplorable” ban of Miss Eweida’s tiny cross.
The list includes serving and former Cabinet Ministers, as well as one Muslim and one Hindu MP. Some have joined Ministers Peter Hain and Ben Bradshaw in threatening to boycott the airline over its “intransigence.”
It includes 31 Labour MPs, 37 Conservatives, 16 Liberal Democrats and eight from other parties. The rebellion could be highly damaging to BA as the airline relies on MPs – many of whom are frequent fliers – for business.
The list of MPs backing Miss Eweida’s case also includes two serving Ministers, three former Cabinet Ministers – Peter Lilley, Paul Murphy and Clare Short – and 13 former Ministers.
There are also five serving members of the Conservative frontbench, and eight members of the LibDem frontbench including deputy leader Mr Cable.
Gordon Brown’s close ally and former press secretary Ian Austin, Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood and Hindu Tory MP Shailesh Vara have also put their names to one or more of the motions.
The campaign has also united both sides of the Northern Ireland divide – with the backing of two members of the Catholic SDLP and three Democratic Unionist MPs.
They added their weight to Archbishop of York John Sentamu’s criticism that BA’s policy was “nonsense” and was ignoring Britain’s cultural heritage.
Miss Eweida, 55, lost her appeal to wear her cross with her uniform to work at Heathrow on Monday. She has been off work for two months over the row.
But despite the outcry, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams flew with BA to Rome on Tuesday for a six-day visit to the Vatican to meet Pope Benedict XVI.
He flew in the airline’s Club Class section and was given free rein of BA’s VIP suite at Heathrow.
Miss Eweida’s MP Vince Cable said: “I was absolutely delighted and impressed by the very spirited position taken by the Archbishop of York. I am surprised that the Archbishop of Canterbury hasn’t seen fit to follow his lead, but I trust he will do so.”
Some 70 MPs have backed a motion calling on BA to “abandon this apparent discrimination towards its Christian workforce and ensure that members of all faiths are treated equally in the future.”
A separate motion tabled last night says that “the company’s intransigence will damage its reputation and lose many regular customers including Hon. Members.”
Conservative MP David Davies said: “It is absolutely disgraceful that BA have done this. Members of Parliament are frequently contacted by BA to try and encourage us to travel with them.
“I will be writing to the Commons authorities asking them whether MPs should choose an alternative airline in future.”
Labour MP and deputy leadership contender Jon Cruddas said: “I think BA’s behaviour is ridiculous and I support her case. It seems to me totally ridiculous that she should be banned from wearing a religious symbol.”
Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron, parliamentary aide to Sir Menzies Campbell, said: “People have a right to wear religious symbols and to be told otherwise is distinctly un-British.
“The whole debate on religious symbols has got out of hand. We are a tolerant nation and this behaviour from BA seems to be extremely intolerant indeed.”
In America, the powerful Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights added its voice to the protests over BA’s policy.
Last year the League, which has up to 30 million followers in the US, led a successful boycott of Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest shopping chain, because it banned goods referring to Christmas from its shelves under a political correctness drive.
The boycott forced the company to reverse that policy.
League spokeswoman Kieran McCaffey said: “Britain is trapped in a multi-cultural mess of its own making. What’s provoking this situation is a hostility towards Christians and a fawning over Islam, which is rooted in fear.”
She said members were “aware of the BA dispute and will no doubt make up their own minds about what to do.”
In Africa, where British Airways flies to more than a dozen destinations in Africa, there were calls for a boycott of the airline if it did not change its policy.
The Reverend Kenneth Meshoe MP, leader of South Africa’s powerful African Christian Democrat Party, said he was “disappointed” at BA’s attitude.
“It goes against the democratic rights of freedom of expression. A cross does not pose any danger to anybody.
“I will not use British Airways for as long as it treats people’s faith this way.”
Bishop Joseph Ojo, National Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria which claims 30 million members, said: “This is an abuse of their staff’s fundamental human rights – their right to worship and their right to express their identity.
“I would certainly decline to travel with BA in the future unless this policy changes and would urge my followers to do the same,” he said.
“There are very many Christians who will come to the same decision, I am sure, not just in Africa but the world over.”
Bishop Paul Mususu, who heads the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, said he would also support a boycott.
A BA spokesman said the airline was not backing down. He added: “People are welcome to their opinions. Other UK airlines have similar uniform policies.”