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Women rights should not to be cast aside on a populist bonfire of red tape

4 min read

The Government could undercut existing gender equality standards with the removal of legal protections for women, says Rupa Huq MP.

On June 23rd 2016 the UK took the landmark decision to exit the EU by 52 to 48%.

Two years on we still do not know exactly where we’re headed in terms of final deal, the cabinet has seen musketeers Boris Johnson and David Davis high profile resignations. From a subject that no one ever mentioned on a doorstep in 2015 it is now the only show in town, having taken up valuable Parliamentary bandwidth such as a promised domestic violence bill.

What we do know is that every government impact study, for every region of the country and every sector of the economy predicts that things will be worse. We often hear admonitions from farming, finance and fisheries however females have largely been absent from the picture both in the voices leading up to the decision (in a campaign who’s main face was Nigel Farage) to the negotiating teams (Ollie Robins is not short for Olivia). This is a massive oversight. Its even more serious as when one drills down to the gendered nature of the effects of Brexit it is women who have the most to lose. Hard won rights of maternity (and paternity) leave and indeed pregnancy discrimination all came from the EU and we have no guarantee that we these will be upheld and future advances mirrored after March 30th. NHS nurses from EU nations are already leaving in droves and the care sector, mostly female is being hollowed out as a profession that UK-born were eschewing for years. In such situations it is women who bear the burden as unofficial carers in any case. If they are forced to depart employment to do this, we’ll have huge gaps in our labour market. Added to that women in traditional families are most likely to do food shopping which we has already know has been affected with the shrinking size of Toblerones etc and potentially subject to diluted standards ushering in hormone injected beef and cholorinated chicken; a multitude of factors add up to the inescapable conclusion that women are hardest of all hit by Brexit.

We are at a crucial crossroads. This government could theoretically opt to better the existing gender equality standards we have via EU frameworks. Alternatively it could undercut them with the removal of legal protections for women. The omens are not good going by the way that Conservative government previously tried to cut corners on social protections by blocking the pregnancy discrimination directive. Either way it is unclear what the enforcement mechanisms would be. We are to cut ourselves off the additional layer of accountability and recourse provided by the European Court of Justice. There is nothing to guarantee that EU gender equality law will not regress to a level below that of the UK. Even if it was a Labour government who gave us the 1970 Equal Pay Act this principle was enshrined in the very establishment of the EEC in 1957.

Women rights should not be an optional extra but integral to all policy-making, not to be cast aside in a populist bonfire of red tape. Whether you’re a leaver or a remainer opinion polls indicate widespread dissatisfaction at how it’s going. Never mind returning to the dark ages, we are all in the dark about what the post-Brexit world we are to inhabit will look like. For these reasons I believe when the deal is done a people’s vote needs to be offered up. If there’s no deal that should be put to the electorate. In either case there should be an option to stay; at least we know what that looks like. But don’t get me started there. That must be another blog for another day.


Rupa Huq is Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton.

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