Emily Thornberry admonishes ‘disappointing’ Liz Truss over failure to promote LGBT+ rights while securing trade deals
Labour’s Emily Thornberry has skewered Liz Truss for her “non-existent” achievements in advancing equal rights abroad.
The shadow secretary of state for international trade bluntly rebuked her Conservative counterpart as she highlighted the embarrassing fact that the UK has made no moves to expand the membership of the Equal Rights Coalition – despite being co-chair of the global partnership.
The coalition commands significant influence as it protects the rights of LGBT+ people around the world, but in the UK’s two-year term at its head, little has changed.
“Disappointingly, no progress at all has been made in that regard, with the number of ERC members still stuck at 42, the same level as when the UK took over,” Thornberry reminded Truss in an open letter on International Human Rights Day. “Your own contribution to that recruitment effort has been especially disappointing.”
Truss has had the chance to engage with dozens of potential members over the years and bring these countries under the umbrella of equality and inclusion. Thornberry hoped the minister would have “felt a sense of mission” in this regard, both as minister for women and equalities and as international trade secretary.
“But despite having both the opportunity and the motivation, your achievements in this area have been non-existent,” she said.
Emily Thornberry urges Liz Truss to ‘take a more pro-active stance on LGBT+ rights through trade’
As Truss attempts to secure Brexit trade deals she will be facing an unprecedented number of negotiations. However, of the 58 countries with whom the UK has secured rollover trade deals over the past two years, 47 are not ERC members, and there is no indication that the issue was ever raised with any of them as part of negotiations.
Thornberry urged Truss to bring this into consideration, commenting that just yesterday she signed a continuity agreement with Singapore, a country with an appalling LGBT+ rights record, a ban on same-sex marriage and a penal code criminalising sex between men.
“From schools to workplaces, the refusal to recognise same-sex relationships in Singapore has legitimised widespread discrimination and prejudice,” Thornberry said.
“Given these serious and well-documented problems, it is clearly reasonable to expect that you would take any opportunity you have to raise them with your Singaporean counterparts, not least in the context of the provisions on human rights that I assume were included in the continuity agreement signed today.
“Surely you would not have travelled 6,700 miles only to stay silent on half your brief.”
Yet Truss declined to say whether she’s raised the matter of ERC membership with any specific countries since taking up her post in July 2019, dodging Thornberry’s parliamentary question by transferring it to the Foreign Office.
“You showed how little you apparently care about this vital coalition and the principles it stands for,” Thornberry reproached the minister.
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On #IHRD2020, I’ve written to Liz Truss, who – with her dual responsibility for trade and equalities – has so far wasted a historic opportunity to push our trade partners into greater recognition of LGBT+ rights, but can set that right as she pursues UK accession to the CPTPP. pic.twitter.com/Ukw9sMY4IR
— Emily Thornberry (@EmilyThornberry) December 10, 2020
“However, it is not too late for you to change your approach, and take a more pro-active stance on the promotion of LGBT+ rights through trade.
“The UK has six months left as co-chair of the ERC, and you will have many further opportunities in that time to persuade different countries to consider joining the coalition as part of your negotiations with them over both continuity and new trade agreements.”
She pointed out that the UK’s application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership presents just such an opportunity, as Truss will be able to meet campaigners in six non-ERC countries: Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
Whether she will change course and actually do so remains to be seen.