Senior Labour MPs call for women to have bigger role in EU debate

Posted On: 
24th May 2016

Harriet Harman has said women deserve a more prominent role in the debate about Britain’s membership of the European Union.

Angela Eagle and Harriet Harman call for a greater women presence in the EU debate
PA Images

The former interim Labour leader was joined by Shadow Cabinet members Kate Green, Seema Malhotra and Angela Eagle at an event to highlight the dominance of men in the referendum campaign so far.

Their message has been echoed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who will say later today there needs to be “more strong women’s voices” heard.

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Research from Loughborough University concluded females featured in 16% of TV coverage of the referendum and 9% of press articles on the topic.

The findings led Ms Harman to claim women were being pushed out of the debate.

“It’s the men who are squeezing the women out,” she said.  

“Let’s not blame women here, let’s put the responsibility on men to not be filling up all the air times, all the screens, sucking up all the oxygen and squeezing women out of the way.

“They’ve got to move over and let women be heard on this. As we’ve said, this is about women’s futures, women’s lives as well as men's. A lot of women are still undecided and we need a more balanced debate. A men only debate is not a balanced debate when the future of the country is going to affect women’s lives as well as men's.”

Elsewhere in the press conference, Ms Eagle called for Home Secretary Theresa May to take a bigger part in the referendum.

The Shadow Business Secretary said: “I for one would like to see Theresa May get out there and do some campaigning.”

Ms Eagle also attacked the nature of the Conservative campaigns so far, saying women's voices are being "drowned out".

She said: “Women’s voices are being drowned out by the unmistakably masculine and playgroup spat that is taking place between Tory blokes who are having a proxy leadership election, sometimes they appear to be more worries by their own futures than everybody else’s. And this masculine domination of the debate is sadly all too familiar.”

Mr Corbyn will add later: “So far, the referendum debate taking place across the country, has been dominated by men, and mostly Tory men. This needs to change, we need to hear more diverse voices in this important debate, we need to hear more strong women’s voices.


Ms Harman and the other senior Labour MPs also issued a challenge to Brexit campaigners to spell out which protections they would seek to remove from women if the UK were to leave the European Union.

Last week, Employment Minister Priti Patel raised the prospect of “halv[ing] the burdens” of EU social and employment law in the event of a Brexit to “deliver a £4.3bn boost” to the economy.

Ms Eagle, the Shadow Business Secretary, said: “Leading Leave campaigners have already admitted they want to get rid of many of the protections and employment rights guaranteed by the European Union. Today I challenge them to spell out exactly what this would mean for millions of women up and down the country.

“The truth is women in the UK are better off in the EU. From tackling the gender pay gap to safeguarding maternity rights and paid holidays, our membership of the European Union is key. Brexit would put this all at risk, allowing a Tory government to strip away protections for women in a race to the bottom on workers’ rights.”

Labour is also drawing attention to a discrepancy between EU and non-EU countries within the OECD in terms of the gender pay gap and maternity leave.