LIBDEM leader Jo Swinson has denied that Conservative defectors are not liberal enough to join her party.

The party chief has been forced to defend the admission of her newest recruit, Sam Gymiah.

On Saturday, he became the sixth MP – and third former Tory – to defect to the party in the past three months.

Just 12 weeks ago he had been running to replace Theresa May as Tory leader.

Back in 2016, Gymiah angered many in the gay community when he scuppered the progress of a new law that would pardon all gay and bisexual men in England and Wales convicted of sexual offences that are no longer criminal.

The then-justice minister used arcane parliamentary procedure to stop the legislation, put forward by the SNP’s John Nicolson, by talking it out.

Gymiah later backed a softer 2017 law which posthumously pardoned thousands of men, and his voting record also shows that he has otherwise supported greater LGBT rights in the Commons Earlier this month, there was a revolt among some LibDem members when the party welcomed Tory MP Philip Lee.

The Bracknell MP has previously abstained on a vote on equal marriage and tried to introduce an amendment to a bill which would ban HIV-positive immigrants from entering the country.

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The chair of the LGBT+ LibDems, Jennie Rigg, quit her post in protest, saying Lee “thinks me and people like me are a lower class of human”.

Being interviewed on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Swinson said Lee was “a supporter of equality”, as well as rejecting suggestions that the LibDems were becoming a Tory-lite party.

Swinson told the programme: “I think what I’m leading is an exciting movement that our country desperately needs.

“We have people like Sam Gyimah coming to the Liberal Democrats and we also have people like [former Labour MPs] Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger coming together in the same party because this is where the rallying point is for liberal values in our country.”

The National: Chuka Umunna

She added: “Before anyone joins the LibDems they have to sit down and go through a process with our chief whip to make sure that people do share our values and that is right that we have that process.

“But what is important is that people are on a journey, people who share liberal values but have previously been in different parties, are coming together because we have a moment of national crisis.

“Together we can build something that will genuinely put our country on a better path for the future.”

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Speaking at the party’s conference in Bournemouth on Saturday, the party’s chief whip Alistair Carmichael said that the party was “not deaf” to the concerns of its LGBT+ members.

He said the party “had detailed discussions” about any defectors’ political and personal pasts.

Carmichael added: “It is only after that we decide – the chief whip in consultation with the leader – if we will admit them to the whip.

“Could we have handled it better? Hands up we absolutely could.”

Carmichael claimed that the party had declined applications from MPs to defect.

He added: “It is not about if I agree with them ... very often I don’t.

“The question I need to answer is if that person in reaching the position they did, usually for a values reason, reached a position that was incompatible with our beliefs as Liberal Democrats. We don’t just take anyone, and we never will.”

Speaking on Sky News, Gymiah, said he had “to face up to the fact that the Tory Party is in a different place” from the party he joined.

He added: “If I want to stand up for liberal values, then the Conservative Party is no longer the place to do that.”