Female parliamentarians, businesswomen, campaigners and others sign a letter to the Guardian highlighting the real risk of losing hard-won rights after Britain leaves the EU.
This week’s European summit marks a critical moment in the Brexit negotiations. Much attention has been focussed on arguments about trade and the economy but not enough on the impact leaving the EU will have on our rights. The UK is unique in Europe in not having a written constitution. Post-Brexit, we will be the only country in Europe where politicians will be free to remove and diminish hard-won rights, especially for women and minority groups.
Many employment and social protection rights are derived from the EU treaties and directives, as interpreted by the case-law of the European court of justice. For example, equal pay for work of equal value, parental leave, anti-harassment laws, properly paid holiday rights, working time and important features of our anti-discrimination provisions, including on pregnancy and maternity, have been introduced or substantially developed by the EU.
The importance of equality and social protections is being lost in the wrangles over customs and trade. Theresa May has already promised to leave the EU charter of fundamental rights with no British replacement lined up to ensure we don’t lose almost 50 years of protection.
Let’s not forget that marriage bars existed in some workplaces until the 1940s. Some of our grandmothers had to resign from their teaching jobs when they tied the knot. More recently, a woman could be dismissed for pregnancy. It was argued that this was not discrimination on the basis of sex, because a man could be dismissed for long-term illness. Now, it is illegal to choose a woman who is not pregnant over a pregnant woman when the pregnant woman is better qualified. Any disfavouring of a person because of pregnancy is direct sex discrimination.
These are huge developments – and they are grounded in EU treaty rights. No state can remove or diminish them. Poland will try. Hungary will try. But as long as they are members of the EU, they will fail.
Once the EU treaties and the charter of fundamental rights, with which all EU law and EU-derived law must comply, are removed from UK law, there will be nothing to stop politicians from diminishing rights that have taken many years to win, in a race to the bottom when it comes to employment practices. Indeed, some may be motivated by the power Brexit will give them to do this.
Even if the rights and protections we currently have are automatically absorbed into UK law by the withdrawal bill (and that is not the case because the government has removed the application of the charter of fundamental rights), parliament can in the future remove and diminish these protections.
The real risk to people from all walks of life of losing hard-won rights needs to be understood. This is why we believe people must be given the chance to vote on the final deal.
Nina de Ayala Parker Women’s rights activist
Tulip Siddiq MP Labour, Kilburn and Hampstead
Jessica Simor QC Specialist in public/regulatory, EU and human rights law
Fiona Millar Journalist and campaigner on education and parenting issues
Nicola Horlick Investment fund manager
Livia Firth Executive producer of 2015 documentary The True Cost, and Founder Green Carpet Challenge
Gina Miller Business woman, transparency campaigner
Ruth Chapman Co-founder and co-chief executive of Matches Fashion
Bonnie Greer Playwright, novelist, critic and broadcaster
Layla Moran MP Liberal Democrats, Oxford West and Abingdon
Caroline Criado Perez Feminist activist, journalist
Eloise Todd CEO, Best for Britain
Cherie Blair QC
Zoe Williams Journalist
Amanda Levete Architect and businesswoman
Farshid Moussavi Architect and businesswoman
Alice Rawsthorn Design critic and author
Tessa Milligan Campaigner and actress
Clare Moody MEP Labour
Rupa Huq MP Labour, Ealing Central and Acton
Rushanara Ali MP Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow, Senior fellow of the Young Foundation
Caroline Lucas MP Brighton Pavilion and Green party Leader
Alison McGovern MP Labour, Wirral South
Ros Altmann Pensions expert and political campaigner
Helena Kennedy QC Labour, House of Lords
Patience Weatcroft Conservative, House of Lords
Scarlett Curtis Activist, Co-founder Pink Protest
Schona Jolly QC Specialist in human rights and equalities law
Siobhan Benita 2012 London mayoral candidate
Tanja Bueltmann Professor of history, Northumbria University
Grace Campbell Activist, producer, Co-founder of the Pink Protest
Amelia Dimoldenbergh Journalist and comedian
Alice Skinner Illustrator and visual artist
Elena Remigi Founder of the Limbo Project
Susie Courtault Women’s rights campaigner
Madeleina Kay Illustrator and political activist
Jessica Gottgens Political activist
Women Against Brexit