Angela Eagle: We don’t need lessons on LGBT rights from David Cameron
Exclusive: Angela Eagle discusses her long career as an LGBT politician and tells PinkNews about the importance of the EU’s role in promoting human rights worldwide.
By arguing that LGBT rights will be protected by staying in the EU, does that not suggest that a future PM – of either party – could overturn previous legislation?
Change can go backwards as well as forwards and I don’t think we should ever… I think that we should be pleased with the progress that was made and pioneered by the last Labour Government from 1997 onwards.
It was good that the Conservatives and Coalition Governments have accepted that settlement and in one stage the equal marriage was another step, though I would point out that only got through by Labour votes.
It wouldn’t have got on the statute book without Labour’s support, but that’s good and means we have reached a new consensus on LGBT rights in the UK.
That doesn’t mean that won’t disappear at sometime in the future and we always have to be vigilant about progressive change being eroded. That’s the first thing to say.
In the European Union it’s a similar issue that we have with rights at workplace, that we’re arguing for in the Labour party is that the European Union treaties create a floor, which you can’t fall through no matter what your national government is doing.
We made an agreement that enforce certain basic rights and if you look at LGBTI rights in the EU, there are basic levels of expectation that people won’t be discriminated against.
This is even if you are in one of the nine countries that doesn’t recognise same sex relationships, you still can’t be discriminated at work. If you are then you’ve got redress in the courts.
Also, if you think about same sex marriage or civil partnership or anything like that. They are recognised by EU law in other countries in the EU, as they have legislated for that.
There is also work going on in the European Parliament for that to happen in the nine countries that don’t have it.
That also means that because the EU is quite a big player in international situations and this is where we come onto IDAHO.
We have a good progressive pool of sort of expectation of multinational organisation that the EU has a part of and helps us put pressure on those countries where it’s still illegal to be gay.
In the places where the penalties can be pretty serious, up to and including death.
So do you think that argument – inclusion and the ability to help things internationally – is strong enough to convince LGBT voters?
It’s only one part of why I believe and the Labour party believes that we should stay in the European Union.
It’s illustrative of things that happen over and over again. That is how as a country of 60 million people, you can ensure that your values and what you’ve done in your own country is amplified and projected into the world.
These are progressive values that are of equality and respecting people for what they are. All of these things are important values in the 21st century and by being part of a bigger organisation we can project those values globally, more so than if we were just one country of 60 million people.
I’m not saying that we couldn’t, we have in the past.
You’re too young to remember, but when I was growing up there was military juntas in Greece, Spain and Portugal.
There was no democracy in large parts of Europe. When the Berlin Wall fell and the old Soviet Union collapsed, there were new countries that wanted to create democracies.
The template of European Union membership was a great way for them to get their laws in shape so that they could become democracies and access to the European Union, for example, definitely improved the transition of Spain from General Franco to a constitutional monarchy.
Similar in Greece and Portugal.
I don’t think that we should underestimate the stabilisation effect that the European Union gives and the economic arguments are something else again.
Do you think if we leave there is a real fear of something like a conscience clause being introduced?
There is all kinds of ways that LGBT advances can go backwards.
If you have locked in a floor of rights, like we have with the EU treaties – you can’t go below that, without there being redress for individual citizens.
When I was arguing within Labour Party audiences that the Tories are always rights at works as an interference – maternity pay, paternity pay and that sort thing.
We know that if there was a Tory Government in this country that wasn’t in the EU, they’d want to get rid of a lot of those rights. They’ve said so. They spend half their time quoting those rights as an interference.
Being in the EU, even if we have a Conservative Government there is a standard, in thing like work, that is difficult for us to go below. i think that’s a good thing.
Was the PM wrong to offer the referendum?
We are where we are on the referendum. I don’t personally think the PM should have subordinated the national interests of this country, behind managing an internal spat in the Conservative Party.
He did. We have seen the consequences. A huge period of uncertainty, an economy that has stalled, growth is definitely slowing almost to a halt and it’s unclear whether that will be a rebound after the referendum or not.
He is now talking about WWIII and I just wish we weren’t in a situation where uncertainty had been created, but we are and we just have to win the referendum now.
What do you think is the most important factor for LGBT voters, other than LGBT rights?
LGBT people are people and therefore if we end up poorer because of a Brexit and we were to separate ourselves from the largest internal market in the world.
That would be a significant, economic shock to our country and it would set us back in terms of recovery from the 2008 economic crash.
There would be a period of declining economic activity before we could catch up and we’d be in a period of uncertainty to begin with.
What happens if article 50 of the treaty is invoked? We leave and then the 27 remaining countries set the terms of the divorce and we’re outside the room. We have to accept what they give us and aren’t in the best place to negotiate.
We couldn’t access the single market without tariffs. In the case of automotive, which we are very good at in this country, that’s a 10% tariff on every car – unless we could negotiate something.
How do you think people in the North East are going to feel about that?
Companies are already buying plants that are already in Europe, hedging their bets against us coming out. if they’re going to stay, great. But, there is still a plant in Europe that’s going to compete with our plant.
We didn’t have to be in that situation.
There will be an economic shock. People won’t be able to live in Europe as easily and if we manage to negotiate access to the single market, half a billion people’s worth after all and where half of our trade goes, if we manage to access that even with tariffs, we still have to agree to free movement and pay for access that won’t be much less than what we pay now.
Plus, we’d be outside of the room when they decide all of the rules.
Norway and Switzerland do this and as a percentage of their population, there are more EU citizens living in Switzerland and Norway than in the UK.
You’ve gone out of the room and taken away any influence you have on making the rules, but you still have to abide by them and pay.
The people who talk about Brexit don’t say what the model is going to be. Why should we deliberately cause chaos in the hopes that something better will come out it?
I just think that unravelling 42 years of economic and social interaction with Europe is not going to be done easily and certainly not going to be done without major costs.
Moving onto the Labour Party, since the last leadership election we’ve seen less conversations around the LGBT issues…
Ed Miliband was much more accessible when it came to these issues.
I’ve got no insight into Jeremy’s personal views that he is anything other than supportive of LGBT rights. He always has been.
It just seems that other MPs in the party are leading on LGBT issues, whereas Jeremy has remained rather quiet. It’s like the Prime Minister said – the Conservatives don’t need an LGBT envoy because he is their LGBT envoy.
Well, look. This is the man that supposed section 28. He supported it. He voted to keep it on the statute books. He said we [sic: Labour] were obsessed with minority interests.
And now the heavy lifting and hard work has been done in the face of nasty, national media, when we did all those things. All of a sudden when it’s easy he’s saying, fine. I’m an advocate of LGBT rights.
Good. I’m glad he’s been converted. But I’m not going take any lessons from him. He couldn’t get half of his party to agree with him on equal marriage and that wouldn’t be on the statute books if it wasn’t for Labour support.
We don’t need to need to talk about things that we know and agree with. There is no contention in the Labour Party that we should go further on trans rights. We’re proud of our record on LGBT rights.
We don’t need any lectures from any political party at all, when we have done all the hard work and heavy lifting. Jeremy is as supportive of that as any other leader of the Labour Party I’ve known.
So what issues do you think are still facing the LGBT community here in the UK?
Well, the first thing is that we make sure that the rights we have on the books are a reality to people. It can differ greatly and we need to make sure that equal rights are a reality and you bear down on discrimination. Particularly at work.
Obviously the issue that we’ve had with tribunals and the introduction of fees by the last government, making enforcing your rights very hard and there is a big problem there, so our trade union colleagues are working hard to try to deal with that.
Since tribunal fees have been introduced there has been a 80% drop in discrimination cases and that’s just not right.
There is also a problem in schools and the aftermath of section 28. Teachers still feel worried about talking about these issues whether they are gay or not.
There has been good progress on trans rights, but there is still something that we have to tighten up around the edges.
Do you think PrEP should be rolled out and become a more accessible service to gay men, as it has been suggested?
I think that there is a deeper problem with this government and I know it’s very rude of me to make political points on a serious issues like this.
Because this government is so obsessed with cutting one deficit while letting things like the trade deficit rip, a lot of services to everybody are being decimated.
Services to women and gay people that have been taken for granted are being cut first. So in general there is an issue with the whole public service model because health services and local authorities are being cut.
If PrEP was to come to a House vote, would Labour support it?
It depends on what it says. We’re generally supportive of these kinds of things. Cameron referred to it in PMQs because he was asked by Mike Freer and it’s important to take these particular issues theatre important to parts of our community.
This is happening because of the massive pressure that the Government are putting on the health service and other services, by having this ideological obsession with getting the deficit down to a particular amount, in a particular amount.
That doesn’t that is evidence comes forward that supports it we won’t back it – especially if we can beat the Government. It’s generally what we try to do.
You are regarded as a role model by many in the LGBT community. You’ve had a long and successful career, so how is it to be LGBT in politics and how has it changed?
When I first got involved in politics, long before I was elected and I was elected in 1992. Gay people were treated like a disease, a threat. That changed in the Labour Party faster than it changed in other areas.
It has transformed and look at the social attitudes surveys and the attitudes to gay people, you will see how the switch has happened.
There is more and more acceptance at a younger level. So, as long as we don’t have the equivalent of a Donald Trump elected, we ought to be in for a period that we can at least enjoy more progressive change and social attitudes.
That’d be reflected in this place because in a democracy those kind of social changes do take place.
I didn’t expect to be the only out female politician in the chamber for more than 10 years. I came out in 1998 and the next women wasn’t until 2010, I think. And now they are everywhere.
Would like to be the first out, female LGBT prime minister?
Well, I have to step very carefully here because we have a leader already. But, I enjoyed doing PMQs, let’s put it that way. I don’t think I did too badly.