Government must embed equality into UK law, says report
The Brexit process offers an opportunity to embed equality into law and policy in the UK, says a new report published by the Women and Equalities Committee, ensuring strong equalities legislation after the EU exit.
Since the Referendum in June 2016, one of the commitments that the Government has made is to ensure that the same laws and rules apply after the UK is no longer a member of the EU as before it leaves. The Government has specifically mentioned that general rights should be protected and maintained, and that there should be no regression in the rights of workers.
But ensuring that equality protections are maintained is not simply a matter of transposing existing EU law, says the report.
“In order to protect rights, the Government needs to take active steps to embed equality into domestic law and policy. The steps we recommend would entrench equality into the UK legal and policy framework and would ensure that the UK retains a strong, undiminished record of equality after it leaves the EU.”
The Committee recommends that the Great Repeal Bill is an opportunity to make this real by including a clause saying there should be no going backwards on equalities.
Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said:
"If the Government wants to maintain the current level of equality protection for vulnerable groups including pregnant women and disabled travellers, it must take active steps to embed equality into UK law. Our recommendations would go a long way to ensuring that the UK retains a strong and undiminished record of equality after it leaves the EU.
“There are two concrete priorities which the Government should focus on: first, to include a clause on equality in the Great Repeal Bill saying that there will be no going backwards on current levels of equality protections, and second, to amend the Equality Act 2010 to empower Parliament and the Courts to declare whether new laws are compatible with equality principles.”
The report recommends that the Government should:
- introduce an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to empower Parliament and the Courts to declare whether legislation is compatible with UK principles of equality, comparable to similar provisions in the Human Rights Act;
- include a clause in the Great Repeal Bill that explicitly commits to maintaining the current levels of equality protection when EU law is transposed into UK law;
- develop a cross-government equality strategy in order to ensure that all government departments take action on equality, and to provide a platform for linking into civil society organisations; and
- map the extent of research and other equality projects currently receiving EU funds and to replace and ring-fence these funds to allow research on equalities to continue undisrupted.
Responding to the publication of the report, Equality and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said:
“Britain has a long tradition of upholding people’s rights and challenging intolerance. Brexit is a great opportunity for the Government to set out a vision of the kind of country we want to be and to strengthen the equality and human rights protections in the UK once we leave the EU’s laws behind.
"We agree with the Committee that we need to ensure all existing protections are written into UK law. It is vital that there is no weakening of protections we all rely on day to day. We also need to strengthen our home-grown protections, including by bringing in a constitutional right to equality against which any new laws can be tested to check they meet the standard of fairness that is central to British values. This is essential if we are to heal some of the divisions that we saw in the run up to, and since, the Referendum.”