Brexit is not the ‘will of the people’, it's the will of the men – no wonder so many women want a Final Say

A Brexit recession will mean more cuts to public services on which women disproportionately rely. And that's before we get to the EU legislation that saves the lives of vulnerable trafficking victims and those suffering domestic abuse

Tulip Siddiq
Saturday 19 October 2019 13:52 BST
Campaigners gear up for fresh Final Say march demanding second Brexit referendum

One of the many lies to have gained credibility through repetition is that Britain “overwhelmingly” voted for Brexit in 2016. Less frequently do we hear that a majority of women voted to Remain, with 67 per cent of young women and 55 per cent between the ages of 35 and 54 voting to stay in the EU. The refrain “will of the people” turns out to be “will of the men”.

Britain has endured nine years of austerity since 2010 and women have been hit hardest, with only 20 per cent of the public spending cuts falling on men. Brexit will only make the situation worse. Whether we end up with Boris Johnson’s deal or a catastrophic no-deal scenario, the UK will end up with a smaller, weaker economy. This, in turn, will provide yet another excuse for spending cuts.

A no-deal Brexit would undoubtedly be the worst outcome for Britain, leaving us with a weaker pound and higher prices for those products we can still access. The fact that ministers are seriously contemplating food shortages as an acceptable price to pay shows just how unhinged the pursuit of “Brexit at any price” has become.

For women, a Brexit recession will mean more cuts to services on which they disproportionately rely. It will mean many more job losses in the public sector, in which women are more likely to work. Far from being a “clean break”, it will mean years of uncertainty for households across the country.

A recent report by Best for Britain, Brexit: A Threat to Women’s Rights, shows that the risks of leaving the EU are not just financial. Three in four trafficking victims, for example, are women. EU law in the form of the trafficking directive provides crucial protections that can save lives. These common endeavours were always hated by Eurosceptic men, and they almost succeeded in stopping the UK from opting into the law in the first place. Only when 46,000 people signed a petition did David Cameron give in. The UK is yet to offer any alternative to the EU duty to provide victims of modern slavery with support, instead suggesting we’ll use our new found “sovereignty” to do less for some of the most vulnerable women on the planet.

It is a similar story for domestic abuse laws. Common EU legislation means that restraining orders issued in one country apply in all the others, and it’s possible to gain enhanced protection if you move to another member state by securing a European Protection Order. Brexit means diminished rights for all British citizens to live, work and study across the EU, but the reduced protections available to those fleeing from abusive relationships should be of considerable concern to all.

As these most basic rights, freedoms and protections are stripped away – women cannot rely on British governments for continued entitlement to equal pay either. The next target for the Tory right will be the Equality Act – “political correctness gone mad” – and with it rights to equal pay and equal treatment. These guarantees are presently underpinned by EU law which, having been supported by the 28 democratically elected governments and the democratically elected EU parliament, has “direct effect” in the British courts. Likewise, EU law safeguards maternity leave and the right to keep your job afterwards, and it protects shared parental leave, which has begun to level the playing field in the workplace.

Brexit will have a disproportionate impact on women, many of whom did not vote for it to happen. As hundreds of thousands march from Park Lane to Parliament Square this weekend, it’s vital our voices are heard. Labour has a proud tradition of protecting women’s rights. Only by adopting a clear Remain stance ahead of the public being given a Final Say on Brexit can we do justice to that legacy.

Tulip Siddiq is Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn and a supporter of the pro-EU Best for Britain group

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