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Mythbust

Brexit won’t help LGBT rights

by Jack Schickler | 12.04.2016

Myth: Leaving the EU would help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights

InFact: Brexit would do nothing to improve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in the UK or abroad. The EU’s charter of fundamental rights outlaws discrimination on sexual orientation. EU laws do not limit our ability to set higher rights for LGBT people in areas like employment discrimination, or to pass laws on gay marriage. If anything, Brexit would lose us our leverage to improve rights in eastern European countries.

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London Mayor and Prime Ministerial hopeful Boris Johnson is flying the flag for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights. Good for him. Bizarrely, he thinks the LGBT cause is another reason to leave the EU.

In a video to launch the new pro-Brexit “Out and Proud” group, he notes Britain has “the most progressive attitudes towards LGBT issues anywhere in the world”. But, he continues, those rights derive from the UK, not the EU. And in EU countries such as Romania, Poland or Hungary they are not protected, or are under threat. He says we should “take back control” over LGBT issues “and everything else”, by leaving the EU.

Johnson’s argument does not hold water. Brexit would do nothing to improve LGBT rights in eastern Europe – indeed we would lose our leverage to improve rights in those countries.

Nor would leaving the EU improve our ability to protect LGBT rights within the UK. Existing EU laws prohibiting employment discrimination set minimum standards, and we are free to exceed them if we want. We do not have to “level down” our rights to those of other European countries.

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Johnson’s argument also ignores the many protections the EU offers LGBT people. The EU’s charter of fundamental rights – the application of which Johnson is wont to criticise – prevents discrimination based on a range of factors, including sexual orientation. The EU has the power to legislate to combat such discrimination, on which each EU country has a veto. Laws under such provisions have been used by the court of justice to slap down homophobia in eastern Europe.

Boris is right to trumpet Britain’s progressive attitudes on LGBT – based on an analysis of national laws and policies, Rainbow Europe reckons we are the second most LGBT-friendly out of 49 European countries. EU countries occupy seventeen of the top twenty positions, which suggests they are not all doing so badly either.

Deficient LGBT rights in other EU countries are not the fault of the EU – laws in areas such as same-sex marriage are for national parliaments to set.  If Johnson thinks the EU should start acting in such areas, then perhaps he should say so – though the UK Independence Party has already fumed at the mere prospect.

This article is an adaptation of a piece that previously appeared on InFacts

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Brexit won’t help LGBT rights”

  • Hi, in your analysis, you claim that Britain in the EU would be able to influence eastern European countries, yet practically no countries in eastern Europe are EU member states. The easternmost EU countries we call Central Europe are still west to Europe’s midpoint, and countries in eastern Europe (Russia, Belarus, Ukraine) are beyond scope of EU influence, therefore you didn’t mean ‘eastern European countries’. You meant ‘Central Europe’, Balkans and Baltic states.