Now Reading
The EU is not as great on LGBTI rights as everyone thinks it is

The EU is not as great on LGBTI rights as everyone thinks it is

Ian Duncan MEP.

The political left is claiming Brexit will see the UK abandoning gay friendly allies in the EU and cozying up to anti-LGBTI despots.

Last week my fellow MEP, Seb Dance, wrote for GSN. He stated Brexit would force Britain to develop closer trading relations with the Middle East, with their appalling record on LGBTIs.

I share his concerns about human rights in the Middle East. However, his assertion that we are turning our back upon our liberal allies in Europe and embracing Arab despots, all because of Brexit, needs closer examination.

How good is the EU on LGBTI rights?

It’s worth examining gay rights at home first. The states of the EU are a beacon to the world in terms of gay rights. Well, most of them are.

EU law protects citizens from being sacked on account of sexuality but does little to protect their family rights. In fact, there are seven EU states with a constitutional ban on gay marriage. These are Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia.

The European Court of Human Rights (not the EU’s Court of Justice) was instrumental in securing legal recognition of sex-same unions in Europe, driving change in Italy. But it had earlier rejected the claim that gay marriage was a human right.

There is work to do. The UK currently ranks third on the European continent, behind Malta and Belgium, when it comes to LGBTI rights (not high enough). But our rank has zero to do with the EU.

‘Liberal’ EU members selling weapons

When it comes to our future trade relations, I don’t accept that the UK is turning its back on its EU partners. The Brexit negotiations will determine our trading relationship and they have not yet begun.

However, it is worth gently examining the trading record of our ‘liberal’ European partners. Six EU members states (including ourselves) feature in the global top 10 exporters of major weapons.

Where are the weapons bound? A quarter of French weapons sales are to United Arab Emirates and Morocco; 10% of Spanish weapons to Saudi Arabia; Italy arms both the UAE and Turkey. Even Germany sends weapons to the Middle East, with 10% of its weapon sales to Israel.

The competition to supply weapons to this troubled region is fierce, and it has nothing to do with Brexit.

Doing a deal on ethics

Labour politician Robin Cook, the UK Foreign Secretary in the late 1990s, nobly tried to create an ‘ethical foreign policy’. But it was well and truly scorched by Tony Blair in a tent in Libya when he brokered the ‘deal in the desert’ with Muammar Gaddafi.

And that is to say nothing of the High Court ruling Blair broke the law when he abandoned the fraud investigation into a multibillion-pound arms deal between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia back in 2006. Subsequent governments in the UK (and the EU) have been little better.

Every British prime minister of whatever hue has made the point the only way to change despotic nations for the good is to deal with them. True. It just depends on the deal.

Of the193 states recognized by the UN, 76 outlaw homosexuality. Others have only a passing acquaintance with gay rights. The principal source of the EU’s gas is Russia, hardly a friend of Dorothy, and yet without the gas, well, it gets cold in the winter. So deals are done.

Seb is right, though. Doing deals with despots who treat our community with such inhuman disregard is pretty shitty. It’s just got nothing to do with Brexit.

Rather than end on the downbeat though, let me give the last word to Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party. She tweeted on the passing of Saudi King Abdullah: ‘Flying flags at half mast on gov buildings for the death of the Saudi king is a steaming pile of nonsense. That is all.’

Dr Ian Duncan is Conservative MEP for Scotland and Chief Whip. He is also spokesman for Energy and Fisheries.