Labour EU rivals debate women's rights

Harriet Harman and Gisela StuartImage copyright

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Ms Harman and Ms Stuart are Labour colleagues on opposite sides of the EU referendum campaign

Campaigners fighting for women’s votes in the EU referendum have clashed over whether it protects their rights.

Harriet Harman, Labour former deputy leader, said EU membership meant there was a “floor that is guaranteed” on equal pay and maternity leave.

But Labour MP Gisela Stuart, of Vote Leave, said the UK had gone further on those rights than the EU once they had been established.

Reports suggest women are more likely to be undecided on which way to vote.

Ms Harman told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: “I don’t blame them for that, there’s a lot of people shouting at each other and not doing facts.

Work and pay

The debate

  • Unemployment is over 10% in the EU, almost double the rate in the UK
  • Some workers’ rights are guaranteed by EU laws but tax rates, benefits and the minimum wage are down to UK government decisions


  • Less regulation in the workplace would create more jobs
  • Maternity leave and holiday pay would only change if Britain decided to change them
  • The UK could get more investment from countries outside the EU
  • Lower migration would push wages up


  • Three million jobs in the UK are linked to trade with the EU
  • The EU has delivered guaranteed holiday pay, paid maternity leave, and increased protection in the workplace
  • The UK gets £66m investment every day from the EU

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“I think we owe it to women in this country to say: ‘Look, this is how we see the EU’s affected your life’.”

Ms Harman said there was a “phoney perception” that hard-won rights for part time workers and on issues like maternity leave and pay would remain in place regardless of whether the UK was in the European Union or not.

“If I thought that all men in politics on all sides agreed with these rights then I would say: Yeah, we don’t need those European guarantees anymore. But actually so often with women it’s been two steps forward, one step back,” she told Women’s Hour.

“I’ve seen actually not only Conservative governments push back against rights from Europe but also Labour governments too saying: Sorry we just can’t afford to do this at this time and oh no, the European Court is making us.”

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“We’ve still got to be fighting our corner. I very strongly disagree with those women and men who say we are all equal now .. Would that were the case. Fat chance.”

Later, in a speech in London , she added: “Why should we trust the likes of Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan-Smith or Nigel Farage with our rights as women? Even if they say they’d guarantee not to go below the rights for women that the EU guarantees – I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them. It’s your rights which are at stake here – so nor should you.”

But her Labour colleague Gisela Stuart, who chairs the Vote Leave campaign said there were no guarantees that the European Parliament, now dominated by right-wing governments, would not back-pedal on women’s rights in future.

“They too can issue directives which can actually cut things,” she told the BBC.

“There was a time under Jacques Delors when the European Commission was dominated by socialist governments and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom didn’t give us the rights we wanted and the European Commission did.

“Since then, when you look at it, what has happened is that at every stage basic rights which the EU started, in the UK, they are higher. Statutory maternity pay is higher in the UK than the EU. The leave is longer here. So what you’ve got is a very good argument for voting Labour.”

She added that 50% of young people in Greece left unemployed were being “sacrificed in the interests of the Euro”: “This notion that the European Union is this great paragon of social justice, think again.”

And her fellow Vote Leave campaigner Suzanne Evans told the Guardian it was “utterly laughable” to suggest that “we need a bunch of former communist men in the EU Commission to fight for women’s rights”.

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