There are not many times I welcome a Conservative Party press release, but today is one! The release slams me personally for my European Parliament report on human rights in the EU. It states:
“(Richard Howitt MEP) angered Conservative opponents by insisting on adding a clause to the report condemning…the UK for what he described as an “obstructionist attitude” in negotiations over EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.”
In the week the Tories are pushing reforms to the Court which Liberty have described as tantamount to Britain leaving the European Convention, my report – based on direct briefings on the inter-governmental negotiations on the EU itself signing up to the convention – exposed the huge chasm between the Government claims in public whilst in private doing the very opposite.
EU accession is a treaty obligation to which the official Foreign Office position statement says Britain is fully committed.
On Tuesday Lib Dems scoffed at my criticism and, maintaining their role as apologists for the Tories, persuaded their allies to vote against. By today both the Tory release and speeches from their official spokesperson on the floor of the European Parliament confirm Tory representatives are doing everything possible to obstruct the agreement, openly celebrating the fact they are reneging on their own published position.
Indeed my report itself seems to have provoked a new standard for the Tories in saying one thing at Westminster, whilst doing another in the European Parliament – when they hope no-one is looking.
Whilst Cameron gives soft interviews in the Pink Paper, not one Tory MEP voted for a clause proposed condemning attempts to include homosexuality as a ”mental disorder,” in the international classification of diseases.
A fairly anodyne clause supporting “women’s equality and children’s rights” was opposed by thirteen Tory MEPs including one woman. Half of Conservative MEPs failed to support my backing for EU aid to sexual health programmes in poor countries, even though I quoted the specific words “to help women not to die in pregnancy.” Of two who actually voted against, incredibly one is a doctor.
What happened to Cameron’s attempts to attract women voters or seek a new image by suddenly claiming to be development-friendly?
The Tories fail to distinguish between my condemnation of their party and Labour MEPs backing our country.
In the chamber after the vote one Tory MEP rose to his feet to say:
“In Britain human rights are not seen as universal…they’re seen as meaningless.”
By seeking to inflame British public opinion against human rights, the Tory Party is playing with fire. This statement is a profound misunderstanding of international human rights law and risks bringing Britain ourselves in to illegality. When I rose to my own feet in the chamber, it was to say that the Tories should apologise to all who fought in the second world war for freedoms on our continent that they seem now to want to threaten.
Britain was isolated in Europe then. it is the Tory Party which is isolated in Europe now.
Tory MEPs were among only 28 MEPs to vote against my report. I and my Labour colleagues were with the majority of 580 MEPs from 27 Member States who supported it, and who support human rights as universal, not subject to an opt in or an opt out, not a matter of where you live but a matter of how you live.
Labour is watching in Brussels and Strasbourg and we will make sure David Cameron’s MEPs are held to account.
Richard Howitt MEP is Labour Member of the European Parliament for the East of England and the Parliament’s Annual Human Rights Rapporteur