The Spectator

When rights are wrong

When rights are wrong

When the European Union drafted its Charter of Fundamental Rights at Nice three years ago, it wasn’t immediately obvious that among the first beneficiaries would be testosterone-charged male drivers bullying their way along the autobahn. But it is they, conclude lawyers working for British insurers, who have the most reason to celebrate the new diktats on sexual equality. A proposed European directive will, it seems, outlaw differential pricing of insurance policies according to sex. Women, in other words, will be denied the lower premiums they have long enjoyed in Britain and, in effect, be forced to subsidise male drivers.

Is this really how the bra-burners of old intended the war of the sexes to end: in a transfer of wealth from level-headed shopgirls pottering to work in their Metros to boy-racers screeching away from the traffic lights in Beamers with low-profile tyres? It is hard to believe, either, that this was the intention of high-minded EU officials when drawing up their charter. But such are the perversities of the code-based system of law that is increasingly being used to override the more pragmatic British tradition.

If the tendency of rights charters to generate unintended consequences is not obvious to Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who has proposed to incorporate the charter on fundamental rights into the European constitution he is drafting, it should be clear to Tony Blair. One of his early initiatives as Labour leader was to draw up rules to impose women-only shortlists on the party committees picking candidates to fight the 1997 general election. The shortlists were promptly ruled to be in contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act which Labour had passed during its previous period in office in 1975.

What happened next is a warning to all citizens who might be fooled into thinking that a human-rights charter will protect them from the arbitrary rule of their government.

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