Policy Network event: what does the EU referendum mean for women?

International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016 Speech of Emma Reynolds MPI would like to thank Policy Network for holding this timely debate on International Women’s Day to discuss how women could hold the key to success in the EU referendum on 23 June.

It is unfortunate that the opening weeks of the referendum campaign have been dominated by men.  


The headlines have focused on divisions in the Conservative party, particularly the Tory family row between the PM, Justice Secretary and Mayor of London.


Women need to be more visible in this campaign.


Pro-Europeans will miss a trick if we fail to appeal to women voters.  
There are one million more women voters than men.


Women are twice as likely to be undecided about Europe.


UKIP attracts fewer women supporters and women are less likely to trust Nigel Farage.


There is also evidence that women tend to be more cautious about moving away from the status quo.


We need lead with the positive the case about the impact on people’s lives, rather than getting drawn into abstract debates about sovereignty.


And then underline the risks of leaving.


The Labour In For Britain campaign will put forward three arguments to appeal to women to vote to remain:


  • We have better rights at work thanks to European rules.
  • We are more prosperous in Europe.
  • We are safer in Europe.



As TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady recently said, workers rights are on the ballot paper at the referendum.


European employment rights and protections for part-time and agency workers, and maternity leave provisions, particularly benefit women.


Nearly three-quarters of Britain’s six million part-time workers are women.


I am proud that the last Labour government joined the social chapter and that the Labour movement forced David Cameron to abandon any watering down of European workers’ rights and protection.


We cannot trust the Tory government to restore these rights should we leave the EU.



We are more prosperous in the EU than outside.


We trade more with other EU countries than any other country in the world.  


We are a gateway to the rest of the European single market of 500 million people – the largest market in the world with no tariffs or barriers.


So our membership make us a magnet for overseas investment.


It is a false choice to say trade with Europe or the rest of the world.


The EU gives us more clout in trade negotiations with other big economies around the world.


The American government has said that it isn’t interested in negotiating a separate free trade deal with the UK, if we left the EU.


Rather than just reeling off GDP figures and talking about trade deals, we need to put forward local examples of jobs and investment we have attracted and that would be at risk, should we leave.


Making this more granular economic case is particularly important to appeal to women.



The challenges that we face don’t stop at the White Cliffs of Dover: Putin’s increasingly aggressive Russia; cross border crime & terrorism; climate change; the refugee crisis.


We can only meet these challenges by working with our European partners.


Our police and counter-terrorism experts share information and intelligence with their counterparts across Europe.


The European Arrest Warrant enables us to deport foreign criminals and bring back home those fleeing justice for crimes committed on our shores.


Pulling up the drawbridge will make it harder to deal with these problems and could make us a safe haven from criminals fleeing justice.


The Brexit campaign

The anti-Europeans launched Women for Britain today.


They claim women should vote to leave the EU to take back control.


This doesn’t make sense.


If we leave the EU – either we will face huge trade barriers – or we will have to renegotiate access to the single market.


Norway has access to that market, but it comes at a price.


They pay into the EU budget, abide by the EU’s rules including free movement.


They have no seat around the table and no say in the rules.


This would mean less control, not more control.



Women could hold the key to success at this referendum.


The campaign so far has been dominated by men.


Women need to be more visible and we need to make the pro-European case that women have better rights at work and that we are more prosperous and safer inside rather than outside the EU.


I look forward to making that case with you.