The Impact of Brexit on Equality Rights
28 Sep 2017, 8 am | British Academy

The Impact of Brexit on Equality Rights

British Academy, London

28th September at 8 am – 10 am.

The government has expressed its commitment to maintain equalities legislation post Brexit. However, as the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recognised in its report in February, this is more complex than merely transposing legislation. This workshop brings together a select group of stakeholders, policy-makers, practitioners and scholars, to reflect on how to ensure robust protection of the fundamental right to equality after Brexit.

The workshop is being organised by Professor Sandra Fredman, Professor Alison Young and Dr Meghan Campbell under the auspices of the Oxford Human Rights Hub and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The workshop is closed event and will be held under Chatham House rules to guarantee free and open discussion.

The workshop explored the following key questions:

How can the right to equality best be protected and advanced while at the same time respecting Parliamentary sovereignty?

Should there be a preamble stating the values behind the Equality Act to guide judicial interpretation?  Should there be a ‘no-regression’ clause to protect existing rights?

Should the existing case-law from the Court of Justice of the European Union continue to play a role in the development of the right to equality, and if so what role?

What role should the Human Rights Act play in protecting equality rights and should the UK’s remaining international commitments on the right to equality be given a more prominent role after Brexit?

How should particular rights be protected, for example rights to equal pay for work of equal value, protection for pregnant workers and parental leave and equal rights for part-time workers?

The round-table structured discussion brought together the Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Chief Executive of the  Northern Ireland Equality Commission, the Deputy Director of the Government Equality Office, the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, the chair of the Conservative Lawyers Association, the Legal Advisor to the Women and Equalities Commission, members of thee House of Lords, several leading academics from several university, QCs, chief executives from relevant NGOs, the senior lead on Brexit and equality from the Trade Union Congress, and the British Medical Association, and  doctoral students too. The discussion confronted the challenges Brexit and the EU Withdrawal Bill pose to equality rights in the UK.

The workshop discussed the merits of having a simple, understandable Withdrawal Bill; the value of a preamble or interpretative clause to guide future interpretations of Equality Act, 2010; how to confront arguments that post-Brexit equality rights would be too costly; the lack of clarity in key terms on in the Withdrawal Bill; and the need for effective Parliamentary scrutiny for changes to equality rights. Discussants also focused on devolution and equality: Brexit is a crucial moment to consider inter-governmental mechanisms and to ensure all voices in the UK equally participate in the process of withdrawing.

The workshop ended on a hopeful note: that Brexit, while a moment of deep change, is also a chance to enrich and embed the UK’s commitment to equality for all.