18 October

Women will pay for Brexit

Women will pay for Brexit

To be or not to be – that is the People’s Question. A meaningful vote on the Brexit deal must not be another power-grab by politicians in the House of Commons, but an informed and assertive decision by the people of the United Kingdom. What does this mean? It means taking the power out of the hands of the politicians and executing the people’s right to decide ‘HOW’ we Brexit through a People’s Vote. This is really a no-brainer.

While politicians squabble over the Prime Minister’s move for a transition extension with the EU, procedural attempts to block Brexit motions, internal party dissension and leadership posturing, the true state of despair on Brexit is being experienced by millions of British people who have lost confidence and trust in politicians. Politicians remain out of touch with what the people want, resulting in still more of a sense of marginalisation and disenfranchisement. The Prime Minister’s statement during the 2018 Conservative Party conference, referring to the People’s vote as a Politicians’ Vote via a Second Referendum, embodies the very essence of political disassociation from the people.

Short-term and long-term objectives of UK businesses are in limbo with the lack of definitive progress on a Brexit deal between the UK and EU. This is evident from the frustrations of long-term businesses, like farmers and growers, who face the uncertainty of what to produce and where to sell; or medium and large businesses who are now escalating their contingency plans; to small businesses who have no resource for long-term preparation for this Brexit chaos.

But what about women? Without a doubt, women represent the most marginalised and disenfranchised group in the shambles that is Brexit. Why? Because none of the negotiation on Brexit to date is informed by the implications for women. This is incredible bearing in mind women form 51% of the UK population, according to the Office for National Statistics. Furthermore, the Intersecting Inequalities report by the Women’s Budget Group and the Runnymede Trust revealed that black and minority ethnic (BME) women in the UK, are on average, even more likely than white women to occupy a socio-economic position that makes them vulnerable to cuts in benefits and public services and less likely to benefit from tax changes.

Challenge a politician

I challenge any reader to ‘Ask A Politician’ the following questions on Brexit and put them on the spot. These questions address a couple of the Brexit implications on women highlighted in the economic impact analysis of Brexit on women, a ground-breaking joint report by the Women’s Budget Group and the Fawcett Society. Demand an explanation on how they plan to address these issues in any Brexit deal:

  • Public Services Infrastructure: if there’s a fall in the GDP because of Brexit, does the Government plan to cut public-spending on public services and associated infrastructure? If yes, women rely more on public services infrastructure than men, which means cuts on public spending will limit their access, resulting in disproportionate advantage to men, thereby widening the inequality gap between men and women. We would like to see evidence of addressing this inequality in the Withdrawal Bill and particularly want this to inform any decision on a Brexit deal.
  • Low paid workforce: Do you plan for a more competitive market post- Brexit? If yes, will you maintain the same employment standards and hard labour market rights of women who form 80% of the low paid workforce particularly as temporary and casual workers? Can you commit to not rolling back rights to unpaid parental leave, equal treatment and paid annual leave rights for part-time workers for a more competitive labour market post-Brexit? If yes, we would like to see evidence of this in the Withdrawal Bill and particularly want this to inform any decision on a Brexit deal.
  • Women’s rights: why is there no political commitment embedded in the EU Withdrawal Bill to secure women’s rights? A recent report, Pressing For Progress, from the EHRC shows that the hard fought equality and human protections for women, including employment rights and funding; are in significant risk. If there is political commitment to secure these rights, we would like to see evidence of this in the Withdrawal Bill and particularly want this to inform any decision on a Brexit deal.

The normalisation of life for women must be integral to the successful negotiation of any Brexit deal, because it will impact the quality of life and the choice they have to make in business, school, childcare and as shock-absorbers of poverty in their families. Women will bear the worst effects if the politicians refuse to shape Brexit from the perspective of what deal would give the best quality of life and choice to women.

Politicians must stop politicising the Brexit issue for political gain – and, for once, respect the people’s ability to make an informed decision on HOW to Brexit. If politicians fail to address the People’s Vote and make the Brexit deal a decision BY the people FOR the people, we should vote them out.

Dr Shola is a lawyer, women’s rights activist and the founder of @WILpublication. More information available at