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Convicted ex-immigration minister Støjberg vows to return from parliamentary expulsion

Denmark's parliament on Tuesday voted to expel former migration minister Inger Støjberg, who was convicted last week of violating migrants' rights by separating asylum-seeking couples.

A majority in the Danish parliament on December 21st voted to fire convicted ex-minister Inger Støjberg from the chamber.
A majority in the Danish parliament on December 21st voted to fire convicted ex-minister Inger Støjberg from the chamber. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Following a lengthy debate, 98 members voted for her immediate expulsion and 18 against, making her the first parliamentarian to be kicked out in 30 years.

Støjberg, who was handed a 60-day jail term by a special court last week though is unlikely to serve any time in prison, had to leave the chamber immediately, waving goodbye as she stepped away.

“I would rather be voted out by my colleagues here in parliament for trying to protect some girls than voted out by the Danish people for turning a blind eye,” she told reporters after exiting the chamber.

However, she said she was open to returning to politics. She is free to return to parliament should she be given a mandate by voters at the next election, scheduled to take place in 2023.

“I don’t think you should expect this to be the last word from me,” she told reporters.

Her order to separate asylum-seeking couples when the woman was under 18 with no individual examination of the cases was found to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

READ ALSO: Danish ex-minister gets prison sentence in impeachment trial

In 2016, the government separated 23 couples on Støjberg’s orders without examining their cases following instructions from the minister. 

The policy was found to be unlawful because the action was taken without allowing for exceptions or consideration of individual circumstances.

The couples, most of whom had only a small age difference, were then placed in different centres while their cases were reviewed.

In seven of the cases, staff at the centres reported that the separated asylum seekers experienced suicidal thoughts or attempted to kill themselves.

Most political parties were in favour of removing the 48-year-old self-styled champion of “Danish values”, a hugely popular politician who served as minister from 2015 to 2019.

“It is not compatible with being a member of the parliament to receive a prison sentence,” said Karsten Lauritzen, parliamentary chairman of the Liberals (Venstre), the party Støjberg left in February.

Since 1953, only four members of parliament have been excluded.

Støjberg has insisted the policy was designed to fight against forced marriages and said after her trial that she was “being punished for trying to protect the girls”, while not commenting on the similar ages of most of the couples.

As minister, Støjberg was at the forefront as Denmark’ centre-right government, propped up by the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF), tightened restrictive migration policies from 2015-2019.

She passed a law allowing for migrants’ assets to be confiscated to finance their care in Denmark and boasted of having passed more than 110 amendments restricting the rights of foreigners.

She also published a picture of herself with a cake to celebrate the passing of a 50th law curbing immigrationcalled for the public to report pizzerias where staff did not speak Danish; and told a false story about a daycare banning pork from children’s lunches.

Conversely, she was the architect of an apprenticeship system which was praised by companies for helping them bring refugees onto Denmark’s labour market.

Since leaving government and the Liberal party, she has echoed former US president Donald Trump by using the phrase “drain the swamp” when addressing a demonstration against the current government.

Despite the election of the Social Democrats to power two years ago, the Scandinavian country still has one of the most restrictive migration policies in Europe.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why reaction to Støjberg verdict is important for democracy in Denmark

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POLITICS

Who do Denmark’s right-wing parties want to be prime minister?

Conservative parties in Denmark must now decide who their favoured prime ministerial candidate will be, with to party leaders declared as candidates for the job.

Who do Denmark’s right-wing parties want to be prime minister?

Denmark will have three candidates for prime minister in the next election – a change from the usual two – after Søren Pape Poulsen, the leader of the Conservative party, said on Monday that that he will stand as a PM candidate in the next general election.

Poulsen’s declaration on Monday means there are now two leaders from right wing parties in Denmark with an expressed aim of securing backing as prime minister following the next general election. The other is the Liberal (Venstre) party leader, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen.

The third candidate is the incumbent, Social Democrat Mette Frederiksen, who commands the support of left-wing parties.

Poulsen’s announcement means smaller right-wing parties will have to decide who they would ultimately back to be prime minister.

It is unlikely the situation would hand the election to Frederiksen, as the right-wing parties can be expected to eventually align behind one of Ellemann-Jensen or Poulsen should they have an overall majority after the next election.

The leader of the Liberal Alliance, a libertarian party which currently has three seats in parliament, told news wire Ritzau his party was yet to decide on a preferred candidate.

“It’s still too early to say for us. Primarily because it’s actually unclear to me what their visions actually are,” Alex Vanopslagh said.

Another conservative party, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, is also yet to decide on its support, but leader Morten Messerschmidt welcomed Poulsen’s candidacy.

“It means something – who is the safest hand to lead Denmark through an uncertain time. And that’s what we’re going to have some good talks about, and I won’t be announcing anything here today,” he said.

“But I can just say that I’m very happy that Søren Pape has entered the ring,” he said.

READ ALSO: Danish Conservative leader confirms plan to become prime minister

Vanopslagh however said that Poulsen’s announcement “does not make a positive impression when [he] has waited for so long”, leaving Liberal leader Ellemann-Jensen to “take the flack” as opposition leader through a difficult period.

Pernille Vermund, leader of the far-right Nye Borgerlige (New Right) party, said she would not announce which of the two her party will back until after the election.

“Politically I’m probably a bit closer to Søren Pape Poulsen, but on the other hand the last three years have given me a good impression that if you make an agreement with Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, you can trust the Liberal party,” she said.

Vermund also called for clear statements from both party leaders on their immigration policies.

The announcement by the Conservative leader has disrupted the established order in the ‘bloc’ system which usually prevails in Danish politics.

The ‘bloc’ classification commonly broadly denotes whether parties are right or left of centre.

Recent decades have seen the ‘blue bloc’ parties work together in parliament to back the leader of the Liberal party, currently Ellemann-Jensen, to be prime minister if they command a majority after a general election.

The next election in Denmark must take place no later than June 4th next year, but recent speculation has suggested Frederiksen is likely to call an election as soon as this autumn.

A recent Voxmeter poll for news wire Ritzau gave the Liberal party 13.4 points, compared to 13.3 points for the Conservatives. The poll gave an overall conservative majority.

READ ALSO: How likely is Denmark to have a general election ahead of schedule?

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