With the Leave campaign pulling ahead in the polls, as a Remainer, I find myself nervous for the outcome of the referendum on June 23rd. I find myself nervous, in particular, for my rights as an individual if we leave the European Union and hand our rights into the hands of Westminster and a Conservative government.
Individual freedoms and civil liberties is something that we as Liberal Democrats strive for. Our rights, particularly rights in the workplace, are one of the many guarantees we get from the EU. As a young voter, the European Union is an institution I have never seen a life outside of, and the benefits of which I have received my whole life. The fact that the European Union guarantees my rights is something I did not even think about until this referendum debate.
As a young, bisexual woman, my rights (particularly in work) are something that I will see continually abused and under threat against those of my heterosexual male counterparts throughout my life. Yet be it the guaranteed holiday leave, set working hours and protection for women in the workplace, when I leave my studies and enter the working world in the UK, the very hours I work would be subject to the work in equalities the European Union provides. Mothers, and young mothers in particular, are often discriminated against – yet the maternity leave they take is guaranteed by, you guessed it, EU law.
Same-sex sexual activity has never been criminalised in EU law. It’s legal in all EU states, and discrimination by sexuality in employment has been banned explicitly since 2000, provisions enacted by the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999. Whilst on the surface, many LGBTQ+ people look to member states of the EU, particularly in Eastern Europe, and see discrimination – the European Union is becoming a force for change. EU diplomats around the world are now bound to guidelines to defend the human rights of LGBTQ+ people. Within its own union, it spends millions on anti-discrimination community projects and campaigns, and has supported pride parades across the union that were under threat of banning by their governments, such as Lithuania in 2009.
The transgender rights movement is also one that needs cooperation and thrives from it. All EU sex discrimination law is applied to transgender people. Certainly, this area needs improvement, but when we look to what the EU has achieved in terms of rights, it is clear that turning our backs on our neighbours and not looking forward to fighting for this change in the European Union is not going to create progress.
Personally, I cannot speak for disabled people, trans people and people who are BAME. Yet it is clear that many of the provisions and laws mentioned above covers their rights too. Particularly in the case of disabled people, it is great to see the proposed general accessibility act to ensure accessibility across its 28 member states, rather than disabled people fighting within their own borders to achieve reform. In terms of the freedom to work, travel and study, accessibility for disabled people needs to be universal across Europe – and what better what to achieve that than working collaboratively?
When I look to the past of lies, scandals, and rhetoric perpetuated by politicians of all colours and creeds, I do not know that I trust my future, and my rights, in the hands of Westminster and Westminster alone. Particularly when we’d be handing power back to a party who wants nothing but to scrap our Human Rights Act, I feel it is pretty uncontroversial to say that we cannot simply expect these guarantees to be put straight back into our own law.
Leaving the EU would put our rights at the fingertips of the government of the day. I would say that they are too important for that. Our rights benefit from the longevity of EU law. To leave the EU would be a gamble, and our rights are too important to gamble on. After all, discrimination doesn’t stop at borders.
Sophie Thornton is the current Chair of Liberal Youth England. She’s a student at the University of Birmingham, and is a keen campaigner. When she’s not busy annoying her fellow Birmingham Liberal Democrats, she enjoys shouting into The Abyss on Twitter.