Human rights are more likely to come from the EU than the Tories

On equal pay, LGBTI issues and workers' rights, the EU has an excellent track record


Anyone who votes to leave the European Union so that the UK can escape the shackles of the European Convention on Human Rights will be disappointed.

No matter what the outcome of the EU referendum, the UK will still be required to uphold the rights enshrined in both the European Convention and the UK’s own Human Rights Act, because the European Convention on Human Rights is not an EU initiative.

However, it’s reasonable to question whether it’s in the strategic interests of the ‘Remain’ campaign to clear up the confusion.

On the one hand it could be argued that if anti-human rights sentiment is a basis upon which people choose to leave the EU, we should make it clear that a withdrawal would not ‘free’ the UK from European human rights obligations.

At the same time, we don’t want to understate the dangers of leaving a regional collaboration that requires all member states to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of their citizens.

Perhaps we should focus on reshaping the conversation to explain the ways in which even the EU laws not included in the Convention promote human rights.

Take equal pay for women. This is one of the EU’s founding principles, embedded in the Treaties. Women must be treated equally at work and women who have suffered discrimination can take legal action without fear of retaliation from their employer.

Many EU initiatives also tackle violence against women, through legislation designed to recognise victims’ rights. Such rights include minimum standards on the access to important information, support, protection and basic procedural rights in criminal proceedings for those suffering abuse. 

There are the EU laws specifically designed to prevent human trafficking, initiatives aimed at stopping female genital mutilation and protections for LGBTI rights. The EU bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and upholds legislation designed to protect the victims of discriminatory crime.

EU law is also vital for workers’ rights. It has brought in measures to improve health and safety at work, protect a minimum number of annual leave days and impose limits on working hours per week.

Critics out there will insist that we do not need the European Union in order to implement these laws and that’s technically true. However, do you really trust the Conservative government to continue pushing for improvement?

After all, at the 2015 General Election, they expressed their love for the NHS but now the sell-off to private companies continues. It is far more likely to be EU law that results in more women on company boards, requires companies to publish gender pay gap data and prevents unfair dismissals.

One thing is clearly the case: the EU has its heart in the right place and has a solid track record of trying to improve our rights. If you want more of them, vote to stay.

Tom McNeil, Director of Human Rights Act Campaign and Labour Campaign for Human Rights and an Ex-Parliamentary Candidate for Labour

7 Responses to “Human rights are more likely to come from the EU than the Tories”

  1. Robert Petulengro

    “One thing is clearly the case: the EU has its heart in the right place and has a solid track record of trying to improve our rights. If you want more of them, vote to stay.”
    Are you serious?
    Allow me to point you in the direction of either Greece or Calais. Did you see the children clambering over the rubbish heap? Romanians of course get paid the same minimum wage in their country as we do with all the same benefits. They also are gifted with the Romanian National Health Service, which works especially well with orphans and mental patients.
    The idea that lobbyists are there in Brussels in their thousands is complete lies. There are no lobbyists in Brussels because the Commission have their hearts in the right place and represent workers’ rights. Everybody knows that the immigrants from Syria will get full TU Representation in Germany just as the immigrants from Romania do in this country.
    So vote REMAIN and make sure that all this is made even more secure as Europe grows closer and closer together and the Commission takes more and more power to itself under the Fundamental Law.

  2. Tom McNeil

    I do not believe that the existence of EU institutions is why there has been a failure in places like Calais. Are you suggesting that the UK leaving the EU would all of a sudden mean humanitarian crises would be better dealt with? Not for one second should anyone pretend all EU countries are doing everything they can to further human rights, only that we clearly have a number of examples of human rights being improved by the existence of the EU and the laws they have implemented/required to be implemented. Do you not think it is a great thing that equal pay has been enshrined in EU law?

  3. wg

    I feel totally threatened by this European Union.

    I have watched this monster growing in powers by the minute.

  4. Gerry Toner

    In or out we guarantee our rights. EU is not about our rights it is about business. We need a new settlement in or out.

  5. Tom McNeil

    @ Gerry Toner, clearly it is about business and rights. In any event, our rights are not guaranteed, which is why we need to continue to be diligent in questioning laws that seek to change our rights (such as the surveillance laws), and where we see injustice, call upon the law to protect us further.

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