When You Don’t Have It…You’ll Miss It: Women and Brexit- Speech to WoW Festival Friday 10th March 2017

Europe — if you didn’t have it, you’d end up inventing it. By cooperating with others we’ve not just doubled but multiplied our returns. Whether economic or social — and women know that most of all.

Since its inception the EU has been our champion. Literally. The founding treaty of the European Economic Community required equal pay. Jean Monnet the father of Europe clearly not a fan of Piers Morgan.

Even when our own Government didn’t ensure equal pay for equal value it was the EU that made them change our law so that British women received a fair deal. That you couldn’t pay jobs done by women less than jobs done by men- decide bin men were more valuable than dinner ladies.

The Minister who had to introduce the legislation was so annoyed at this impropriety he did so drunk. Well what else did Mens Rights activists do before Twitter?

Its not just our right to equal pay that the EU has fought for- its our maternity rights too.

Now I know some will say we had those before the EU- but not in the way we have now, and not without their help. The European Court of Justice does have its uses.

The EU gave us protection against losing our jobs when pregnant- even when the UK Government did not. It stopped employers dismissing women for having a baby on the basis of what is called the bastard defence- no, not back to Piers Morgan.

It was the argument an employer would have been equally cruel to a man in the same circumstances so it wasn’t sex discrimination.

It gave women the right to time off for ante-natal appointments. The right to accrue holiday pay even when pregnant. The right to return to the same job at the same pay without being pushed out because you had a baby. The country votes for Brexit and ‘The Replacement’ is on TV. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

It protected the rights of part time workers- again when our own Government did not. Giving them paid holiday — without it 2.3m workers today wouldn’t have holiday, of which 1.7m are women. And equal rights to pensions too.

Changes at every turn opposed by our Government. Changes that reflect what the EU did best for women.

It put them on the agenda. It mainstreamed them. It asked the question. And kept asking. Forcing the pace of change in our long slow march to just getting the same rights and chances as a bloke.

Of course we still have far to go the pay gap still remains. 16% across the EU. 19% here.

Only 35% of MEPs are women — but then only 29% of MPs are so….

Being part of the EU opened up massive opportunities for our country — and leaving will undoubtedly change that.

When 50% of goods cross two borders before they hit the shop floor, leaving that relationship and paying more tariffs will hit women more than men as we still don’t earn as much as them to make up the difference.

And as being self employed has become this weeks hot topic its worth pointing out its the forum in which many of us make money too. 44% of the UKs exports go to other EU countries, with 17% of exports from other EU countries go to the UK.

In the last ten years there’s been a faster growth in female entrepreneurship in the UK than the EU average. So leaving our biggest market — whether for pastures new or for a new kind of relationship- will inevitably affect that too.

Leaving will mean the the rules of trade, the rules of the game, the rights we have are all up for grabs. And all those automatic protections that are not written into UK legislation will be open to challenge –

The Great Repeal Bill by the same people who commissioned the ‘fire at will’ Beecroft Report. Who have spent years railing against EU red tape. Like maternity and paternity rights. That introduced tribunal fees for women seeking redress from unfair dismissal.

Like turkeys pledging to provide the full spread on December 25th.

Its not going to stay the same. I mean I’ve been looking for a gym for years where I can use all the facilities, take the classes and not pay a penny — I just wish I’d asked David Davis where to find it.

Now some will say I’m moaning. That Global Britain freed from the shackles of having to share the customs union will take back control — right into Downing Street mind, not parliament — and forge a brave new future.

So lets look at who might we be seeking to trade with, to be able to have access to, to what kind of future does this Government aspire. And we got a clue as the Prime Minister reached out and held hands across the seas — three words to strike fear into all of us. President Donald Trump.

Four Words to make you even more miserable. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Contrast the eight words that defined the EU- you achieve more together than you do alone.

Those who voted to leave because of their concerns about TTIP when it came to trading with America now have a Prime Minister who openly refuses to exclude the NHS from any such deal. Devil you know ey?

But for women the thought of a common set of rights with America may not be so appealing for other reasons — America being the only country in the world not to offer any paid maternity leave at all. There you have to take disability leave to recover from childbirth.

Trump has said he will introduce leave and tax credits — but only for women, thus reinforcing the idea childcare only concerns women, and confusing all of us who studied biology and remember the role of the other 50% of how babies are made.

Or how about partnering with Iran- as Liam Fox has suggested- which does have maternity rights, but has also cut access to birth control. Or today as he’s meeting with African nations to try to strike trade deals — of the 830m women worldwide denied access to adequate maternity leave, the International Labour Organisation say 80% of those are in Africa.

And that’s the point. Our partnership with Europe has driven up standards and meant we and those we trade with, work with, travel with and compete with reach for the top too. So kicking the EU, dismissing it is like cutting our nose off to spite our faces at a time when we need all the friends we can get.

So what to do — firstly demand clarity. The time this will all take will also leave us in limbo — so the sooner we get some clarity on what the Government wants to do, the sooner that uncertainty will be settled. Brexit means brexit means brexit means breakfast will not do.

There may be one brexit, but theres more than one deal. Don’t let your fundamental rights to trade, to work and not to be harassed be taken away. Make sure your politicians know what is in your interests and what you are interested in — whether in your rights to travel, work or live freely as a citizen.

Secondly, demand Britain leads, not follows. Being part of Europe was crucial to amplifying our influence in the world- whether helping to lead action on international development or climate change.

In its time the EU has also been a powerful champion of combating trafficking and sexual exploitation through cooperation across the continent and internationally and a world leader in fighting female genital mutilation (FGM).

Just last week European Countries came together to challenge the impact of Trumps global gag rule on funding for women’s reproductive health services- Britain’s refusal to join in suggests this Government wants to isolate itself from such leadership rather than support it. Britain should not shrink from the international stage, but stand firm with others on it.

Finally, don’t let Brexit become an excuse for inequality. VAT on tampons existed long before we joined the European Union- it was called Purchase Tax. We could give EU citizens status now if we wanted- they don’t have to be bargaining chips. Don’t let politicians tell you Brexit stops them doing things or is responsible for things anymore than believing its all a land of milk and honey.

Since the referendum hate crime has rocketed- this includes a 326% rise in anti-Muslim hate attacks over the last year, of whom 61% of the victims were women. The deal on Brexit is just one aspect of our lives to come- don’t let it obscure action on ensuring the lives of all women in this country go forward.

Europe. When you don’t have it. You will miss it.

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