Brexit may leave holes in UK equality laws

Changes to equality laws will be needed to bolster rights protections in the aftermath of Brexit, an influential Parliamentary committee has warned.

The Women and Equalities Committee released a report this week on ensuring strong equalities legislation after the EU exit.

The report comes after former Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan warned that leaving the EU may cause a ‘legal tangle’ for equality legislation.

She said: “I would think that LGBT rights are so mainstream and respected by the majority of people in this country that that wouldn’t happen.

“But one of the things that hasn’t really been explored is the legal tangle that will result if we were to leave the EU. Some of the anti-discrimination provisions that come from the EU, that we have adopted into UK law… what happens to those?”

The report warns that European institutions including the Court of Justice of the EU and Charter of Fundamental Rights have been fundamental in achieving strong equality protections in the UK, and that their protections are in danger of being undermined.

The committee, chaired by former Culture Secretary Maria Miller,  notes: “Some high-profile UK equality law has started as a judgment made by the CJEU, including the concept of discrimination by association, the inclusion of transgender people within sex discrimination and the removal of the upper limit for compensation for tribunal cases based on discrimination grounds.”

The report adds: “Stakeholders have expressed concern that the removal of the EU legal underpinning, including the court system, will lead to a weakening of equality protection in the future unless its full effects are understood. It is therefore important for the Government, during the process of leaving the EU, to ensure that robust equality protection is embedded at each milestone.

“The Government should ensure that equality protections—including but not limited to workers’ rights—remain to the fore as negotiations begin and throughout the leaving process.

It adds: “The Government should give strong consideration to bringing forward an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to mirror provisions in the Human Rights Act 1998.

“The Government should include a clause in the Great Repeal Bill that explicitly commits to maintaining the current levels of equalities protection when EU law is transposed into UK law. A number of different ways of drafting such a clause have been suggested to us, which we invite the Government to consider and comment on.”

“The status in the UK of future EU case law is currently unclear. While the Government has been clear that existing case law will be transposed through the Great Repeal Bill, it has not provided such clarity for future case law. We therefore recommend that the proposed status of future Court of Justice of the EU case law be clarified and legislated for in the Great Repeal Bill.”