Food for thought:
In some ways, Britain has been the European leader on disabled people’s rights. It was John Major’s Conservative government which, somewhat reluctantly, introduced the Disability Discrimination Act (1995), following the backlash against then minister for the disabled Nicolas Scott, who filibustered the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill a year earlier.
The legislation, and subsequent amendments, was a significant moment in the history of disability rights. The Act has reverberated across Europe, and — despite moving at a snail’s pace — we’ve seen the removal of some barriers to employment and access to premises, goods and services.
Britain can be a force for good within the EU. With their eyes on a third term, Tony Blair’s Labour government recognised the limitations of the Disability Discrimination Act, and committed to reintroducing the Equality Bill — which eventually became the Equality Act 2010 as we know it today.
During this time, the UK’s role within the EU was vital in building support at the United Nations for international agreement on the creation of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD). The UNCRPD was the first human rights convention ever signed by the EU, and the UK’s role inside the EU was vital in gaining the requisite consensus.
But times change. With a UK Tory government obsessed with austerity and the rise of right-wing economics across the EU, disabled people across the Continent are now relying on Europe-wide legislation to protect their hard-won rights. Without those protections, some would struggle to survive. As the UN criticises EU member states for their poor implementation of the CRPD, it’s only a matter of time before the European Union will have to step in and raise its game.
If the UK exits the European Union, just how long is the cobbled path to “sovereignty” under the current bunch of Tory reactionaries? Victory for the right-wing Brexit campaign will surely exile the Human Rights Act to the dustbin.
Do we really expect a Union Jack swathed British Bill of Rights to protect disabled people’s rights to anything like the same extent? Or will the bonfire of “regulations” promised by the Brexiteers simply make it easier for public bodies and employers to sideline and bypass the rights of disabled people?
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