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Essex MP under fire for likening women who campaign to leave the European Union to the suffragettes

PUBLISHED: 12:49 08 March 2016 | UPDATED: 12:49 08 March 2016

MP Priti Patel

MP Priti Patel

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Women who campaign to leave the European Union are like Suffragettes, an Essex pro-Brexit MP has said.

Employment Minister Priti Patel will say that, like women who fought to get the vote a century ago, those who back Brexit are fighting for “democratic freedom”.

She will make her comments at the launch of the Women For Britain campaign, which will campaign to leave the EU.

In her speech, Ms Patel will paint women campaigning for Brexit as the heirs of Emmeline Pankhurst and other trailblazers for women’s equality.

She will say: “As a Suffragette, Pankhurst fought for the rights of women to have a vote, a voice and a say in how their society is governed and who governs it.

“In many ways, Women For Britain are fighting for the same cause.

“The Suffragettes fought for our democratic freedom. Now we are the ones who must fight to protect it.

“Emmeline Pankhurst and the Suffragettes did not fight to have the right to vote on who governs them, only to then see those decisions surrendered to the EU’s undemocratic institutions and political elite.

“Our campaign to take back control from the EU will enhance our democracy and empower women in this country.”

Ms Patel will attack claims that leaving the EU could put women’s rights at risk, and say Britain has a “proud history” of legislating to enshrine equality. The country’s support for women would be “enhanced by leaving the EU”, she will claim.

In her speech, which will be delivered in central London, she will highlight how female politicians including Margaret Thatcher and Barbara Castle shaped British society.

And she will add: “While we remain in the EU, the potential and ambition of women is being held back.”

Leading women from the world of business and politics will be at the launch of the campaign group.

It comes after criticism that the EU referendum debate has been dominated by men.

The group will aim to mobilise the female vote and make the case to vote Leave on June 23.

Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers said: “I will be voting to leave the EU because I think we should take back control over making our own laws in our own Parliament again.”

Anna Firth, founder and co-chair of Women For Britain, said: “We want to give women who want to leave the EU a voice in a debate so far mainly dominated by male voices.

“We believe that the UK’s future is freer, brighter and fairer outside an unreformed EU but most importantly we want our vote back.

“Women had to fight to get the vote and the right to take part in how our democracy and how our laws are made. It is outrageous that our democratic rights have been undermined and given away without our consent.”

But Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst, attacked the Leave campaigner for using her great-grandmother to argue that Britain should leave the EU.

She said: “My great-grandmother fought tirelessly for womens’ rights and dedicated her life to making sure women could live their lives free from discrimination. It is unacceptable to use her achievements to argue for something that is so out of line with the spirit of international solidarity that defined the suffragette movement.

“To the contrary – I believe that my great grandmother would have been the first to champion what the EU has meant for women – including equal pay and anti discrimination laws.”

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