A leading peer has told disabled people to “wake up” to the reality that they could lose many of their hard-won rights if the UK votes to leave the European Union (EU) later this month.
In an impassioned plea, Baroness [Jane] Campbell (pictured) begged other disabled people not to abandon the EU, which she said acted as a “double lock” on disability rights.
She told Disability News Service (DNS): “At the moment, our rights are double-locked. If we leave the EU we can kiss goodbye to all the progress we have made on independent living, employment rights and access to information.”
She was speaking after a seminar she chaired in parliament which examined the disability rights case for remaining in the EU.
The seminar was addressed by influential disabled campaigners and “remain” supporters including John Evans, one of the founders of the UK’s independent living movement and a former chair of the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL); the crossbench peer Lord [Colin] Low, a former president of the European Blind Union; and Professor Anna Lawson, who heads the new Disability Law Hub at the University of Leeds.
There was frustration expressed during the seminar that many disabled people had not understood the risks posed by leaving the EU.
Baroness Campbell told DNS that the rights disabled people had secured as a result of Britain’s membership of the EU would not be lost immediately but would gradually “ebb away” if the country voted “leave”.
She said: “The independent living movement for one has worked so hard to bring disabled people together through Europe to fight for our fundamental human rights and we need that [to continue].
“It will not hit us immediately, but over the years, slowly, they will be ebbing away and then we will be on our own, and we know what it is like to be out in the cold, to be segregated from our fellow disabled people.
“Please, please, do not let this happen. Nothing about us without us, and that means in Europe as well as in the UK.”
Baroness Campbell had admitted to the seminar that she had started thinking about the EU referendum only recently, but the more she discovered about the damage that leaving the EU would do to disabled people “the more afraid I become”.
She said that other disabled people around the country had told her they were preoccupied with other campaigns.
But she said: “We are so busy fighting our battles on different fronts that we are not lifting our heads up to see what is going on around us on the bigger stage.”
She said that many disabled people had told her that they would pay attention to the EU issue when their other battles were over, but she told the seminar: “When that’s all over it will be too late.”