This week is a big one in the process of leaving the European Union. It is the start of the time put aside for the House of Lords to examine the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Over the coming month, Peers have the opportunity to examine this important piece of legislation in detail, debate its effects and vote on amendments.
This week is a big one in the process of leaving the European Union
The core purpose of this Bill is to make sure that, as far as possible, the same rules and laws that we have as members of the European Union will still apply when we wake up the morning after Brexit is complete. In principle, it seems like this should include the hard-won rights LGBT people have gained from our membership of the EU. Unfortunately, as the draft Bill stands, this isn’t the case: there is still a lot of uncertainty around whether or not our rights will be safe as we leave the Union.
Because of the EU, and the laws that have been agreed with our fellow member countries, LGBT people have clear rights that mean we can live free from discrimination and are protected from poor treatment in the workplace and wider.
It has also allowed individuals in Britain to use European law to challenge inequalities on these shores. Most recently, the Supreme Court here ruled in favour of a man named John Walker after he relied on EU law to bring an end to inequalities in private pension rights for same-sex couples.
There isn’t a cast-iron commitment in the Bill that safeguards human rights
Post-Brexit, those rights and protections become far less solid. Although the Government has stated that equalities legislation will not be eroded, there isn’t a cast-iron commitment in the Bill that safeguards human rights. Even more concerning are the provisions within the Bill that would allow Ministers to make changes to the EU law the UK retains without the usual parliamentary process and scrutiny from MPs and peers – something commonly known as ‘delegated powers’, and often called ‘Henry VIII powers’ in the media.
Currently, the Bill is also set to leave behind the Charter of Fundamental Rights on exit day. The Charter provides us all with an added layer of protection, with Article 21 preventing discrimination on grounds of a person’s identity. We are also set to lose the ability to use EU law in UK courts – which is exactly what John Walker did to win his historic pensions case.
In its journey through Parliament so far, the Bill has faced fierce debate and opposition from across party lines. Stonewall, along with organisations such as Liberty and Amnesty International, have been calling for a People’s Clause to be added to the draft law, along with crucial changes so that we can continue to enjoy the protections offered by EU law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
We need clarity in the law that our rights are going to be protected
While the Government has tried to allay fears with plans to set up a Scrutiny Committee and a report on the Charter, it hasn’t gone far enough. We need clarity in the law that our rights are going to be protected.
This complex Bill is far too important to get wrong. That’s why Stonewall, Liberty and Amnesty International are supporting amendments that will make fundamental rights and equality for LGBT people clear in our legal system after March 2019. We will continue to work with members of the Lords from all parties as the Bill progresses, and we’ll ensure that the concerns of LGBT people are heard.