The Women's Equality Party has tabled an amendment to Article 50 bill with Caroline Lucas MP and cross-party support
1st February 2017
Today, the Women’s Equality Party and the Green Party together tabled an amendment to Theresa May’s Article 50 legislation to protect women’s employment rights, ensuring Parliament’s future sovereignty over equality legislation currently enacted through regulatory framework that falls outside its influence. The amendment received unprecedented cross-party support and was signed immediately by MPs from the SNP, Liberal Democrats, SDLP and Plaid Cymru.
“Women have had to rely on the EU regulatory framework and the European Court of Justice to safeguard equal rights at work. Hard Brexit could mean the rolling back of those hard-won rights unless urgent action is taken to ensure responsibility remains in the hands of our Parliament to lead the way towards a more equal Britain,” said Sophie Walker, Leader of the Women’s Equality Party.
Notification of withdrawal from the EU kick starts a process that results in regulations, or so-called secondary law, being demoted to executive control, including employment and equality legislation. This means that changes to women’s rights, such as protections for pregnant workers, can be achieved without parliamentary scrutiny and oversight.
“We are talking about protecting rights for part-time workers and breastfeeding mothers. We need to safeguard the rights for parents to return to work after parental leave and to make sure pregnant women who work night shifts are not put at risk. If we are leaving the EU then it is only right that our parliament is afforded oversight of this vital legislation,” Walker said.
“The European Court of Justice has repeatedly had to challenge the decisions of our legislators, such as when UK courts ruled that pregnancy discrimination was not sex discrimination,” said Walker “It is essential that these decisions are transparent, and that our politicians are accountable to the people should they attempt to roll back women’s hard won rights.”
Caroline Lucas MP said: “I’m pleased to have worked with the Women’s Equality Party on this amendment guaranteeing Parliamentary sovereignty over equality rights that are currently protected through secondary legislation. I urge MPs to add their names to this crucial amendment to ensure that the Brexit process doesn’t mean that the clock is turned back on gender equality.”
Dr Charlotte O’Brien, Senior Lecturer at York University said: “Vital employment and equality rights are contained in secondary provisions. That means that two years from notification the executive could have a bonfire of rights even without a Great Repeal Bill, unless we replace the oversight of the EU legislature with that of Parliament.“
Sophie Walker added that the Women’s Equality Party would continue working with other political parties to ensure Brexit does not turn back the clock on gender equality. “We will insist that new laws and new trade deals are subject to intense scrutiny so that they serve to build up a more gender equal UK, rather than increasing inequalities.”
Notes to editor
The amendment tabled by the Women’s Equality Party and Caroline Lucas is already supported by MPs from five parties. It seeks to guarantee current protections against discrimination on the grounds of gender, pregnancy or maternity, race, disability, age, religion or sexual orientation, some of which are scattered through various laws and regulations. It would ensure that the UK government could not unilaterally amend or remove EU-derived employment or gender equality legislation once negotiations with the EU have begun on UK withdrawal; and that once the UK has withdrawn from the EU, changes to employment or gender equality legislation would be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny, with Parliament replacing the EU as the relevant legislature.
The Women’s Equality Party was established in March 2015 to highlight and dismantle obstacles to gender equality in the UK. The Party currently has 65,000 members and registered supporters. It aims to put equality for women at the top of the national political agenda by being an electoral force that also works with other political parties; in addition to party membership it also offers joint memberships to members of other political parties.
Sophie Walker is available for interview. Press enquiries to Hannah Peaker: [email protected]//07729829475.
Text of the amendment:
Clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert:
(3) Once a notification under this Section has been issued –
(a) Her Majesty’s Government may not amend or weaken employment or equality protections on the grounds of gender, pregnancy or maternity, race, disability, age, religion or sexual orientation currently guaranteed by the UK’s membership of the European Union without approval by a vote in each House of Parliament; and
(b) Any amendment or repeal of UK primary or secondary legislation on employment or equality protection derived from EU law shall be subject to the same level of legislative scrutiny as for primary legislation.
Member’s Explanatory Statement: This procedural amendment would ensure that the UK government could not unilaterally amend or remove EU-derived employment or gender equality legislation once negotiations with the EU have begun on UK withdrawal; and that once the UK has withdrawn from the EU, changes to employment or gender equality legislation would be subject to full Parliamentary scrutiny, with Parliament replacing the EU as the relevant legislature.