The idea of Boris Johnson as prime minister terrifies me – that's why I'm saying no to his sexist Brexit

The man most likely to enter No 10 next week is the very character that the European Union, with its long-standing commitment to women’s working rights and gender equality, was designed to counteract

Sandi Toksvig
Friday 19 July 2019 14:31
Boris Johnson in profile

By day, I’m a comedian. It’s my job to make gags and clownish blunders that sometimes offend people in the name of also making them laugh. But that’s okay because I’m not foreign secretary – and I’m certainly not lining up to be the next prime minister.

Other things that set me apart from a certain prime ministerial candidate are obvious: I’m a pro-European feminist. So that's why I’m supporting the No to Boris, Yes to Europe demonstration on Saturday.

I believe passionately in the European project and its commitment to peace, equality and prosperity for all. Some of the enormous political issues we face today – the climate emergency, cyber crime, violence against women and girls – are truly global; we cannot fight them alone, and we cannot fight them outside of Europe.

As a feminist and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, I’m also very worried about what a Boris Johnson premiership means for women in Britain.

The men (and it is 72 per cent men) who will elect him are overwhelmingly (97 per cent) white and nearly half (44 per cent) are over the age of 65. This doesn’t feel very democratic to me – especially given the Brexit-shaped constitutional crisis this next prime minister is inheriting.

Conservative Party members may be vehemently pro-Brexit and happy to break up the country to save their own party, but when every recent poll shows a majority for Remain, is this really the so-called will of the people?

Nevertheless, by this time next week it’s highly likely that Boris Johnson – famed for offending just about everybody with sexist, racist and homophobic comments, as well as embarrassing Britain on the world stage and spending millions on a flowery bridge that doesn’t actually exist – will be our prime minister. All we know so far is that he will give tax breaks to wealthy men and is prepared to allow us to crash out of the EU without a deal.

It’s really quite remarkable how Johnson will waltz into No 10 in just a few week’s time with nothing more than a haircut and a serious gagging order from his campaign team. This is a time of national emergency. We need to register our protest – and fast.

In the absence of any genuine engagement with policy, all we have to go on is his record in public office: as a journalist, Johnson has sexualised and infantilised women as well as displaying blatantly colonial sentiment. I need not list the countless columns which demonstrate his archaic approach to women. As an MP, he has been absent for votes on abortion and gay marriage while sponsoring sexist austerity cuts and welfare reform. As foreign secretary, he cosied up to Saudi Arabia and Singapore, putting human rights and women’s rights second to arms deals and tax havens.

For all of us concerned with gender equality, Johnson’s track record raises serious red flags about how, as prime minister, he can possibly confront the enduring problem of gender inequality and social injustice.

Spoiler: he probably won’t.

When I co-founded the Women’s Equality Party four years ago, I knew we were needed then but I hadn't realised the situation was about to deteriorate. Our NHS is in tatters, our welfare system is failing and we are so paralysed by Brexit that children are having to take centre stage in fighting climate change. If you think a Boris Johnson's premiership and a no-deal Brexit is going to help things, I believe you’re seriously mistaken. If we have learnt anything from a decade of austerity, it’s that when the economy tanks, it is the public services which women rely on most which take the biggest hit.

Behind the "class clown" act, Johnson’s insidious sexism is a dangerous threat to women’s rights. Ironically, he’s the very character that the European Union was designed to counteract, with its long-standing commitment to women's working rights and gender equality.

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From equal pay for equal work to shared parental leave to anti-discrimination laws, much of the legislation that promotes gender equality began in Brussels. While we’ve been busy arguing about Brexit they have been introducing the Work Life Balance Directive which implements paid carers leave to help close the gender pay gap.

For me the choice is starker than ever: a sexist Boris Johnson Brexit, or a bright future in Europe combined with a serious effort to heal the country.

So, on Saturday, let’s welcome the new prime minister with a resounding cry of disapproval. He’s no prime minister of ours – and this is no Brexit of ours, either.

Sandi Toksvig is a broadcaster, comedian, author and co-founder of the Women's Equality Party

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