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The Government Fought Me for Years and Still Won't Guarantee My Rights Will Be Protected After Brexit - This is Exactly Why The Repeal Bill Must Contain a People's Clause

07/09/2017 13:02

Two months ago, I thought I'd won a battle I'd been fighting for 11 years.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a nasty little clause in the Equality Act - which let my former employer refuse to pay my full pension to my husband if I die - breached European Union equality laws.

I worked for the chemicals giant Innospec for more than 20 years, paying into my pension pot just like my heterosexual colleagues.

It was only after I retired that I discovered Innospec intended to pay my husband just a few hundred pounds a year on my death.

We've been together since 1993. Innospec's twisted approach meant that - had I divorced him and married the first woman I met - she would have received around £50,000 a year for the rest of her life.

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The Supreme Court saw this for what it was: discrimination, pure and simple. The judgment made the front pages, and everyone I spoke to was incredulous that this cruel and archaic loophole had been allowed to stand until 2017.

But the Government didn't just allow it - they fought tooth and nail to keep it in place and spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money doing so.

By backing my ex-employer, they turned a straightforward plea for fairness and decency into a tortuous struggle that dominated my life and forced me to take it all the way to the highest court in the land.

After the ruling, I was elated and relieved. But I was also angry.

In the five years since I first won my case in the Employment Tribunal - before the Government waded in and supported Innospec in their appeal - how many people had spent their last days unsure how their loved ones would survive after they'd gone? How many were left struggling financially through their grief?

And I was worried - because it was only EU law that had made this judgment possible. Given my experience, I knew better than to trust the Government to do the right thing and cement these protections into domestic law after Brexit.

I stood outside the court, on live TV, and said this: "What I would like from Theresa May and her ministers today is a formal commitment that this change will stay on the statute books after Brexit."

In response, a government spokesperson told the press they were "reviewing the implications" and would "respond in due course".

It's been two months. I've still not had that guarantee. It's not a big ask - a few words to give certainty to thousands of couples like me and my husband.

Which makes you think - why is this so difficult? Why is it so hard for the Government to commit to enshrining equality?

Why is it so hard for the Government to commit to protecting people like me from private companies - some of whom, sadly, will always be prepared to rely upon discriminatory arrangements if it saves money?

Unless of course they have no intention of doing so.

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The complex process of rewriting our laws after Brexit is a handy opportunity to quietly dismantle this and so many other forward-steps we've taken in 40 years of EU membership.

The Repeal Bill gives ministers unprecedented and eye-wateringly broad powers to change laws without real scrutiny from Parliament - including those protecting equal treatment for workers and LGBTI, disabled and elderly people.

And there's currently nothing in its 66 pages to stop them wielding these to quietly do away with the many rights and equalities protections that stem from EU law.

How can any Government oppose a clause to stop them taking away our rights?

Who knows? But it's not there. So we need to put it in.

The human rights organisation Liberty, which represented me in my legal challenge, is working with other rights organisations including Amnesty on an amendment to the Repeal Bill - a People's Clause blocking any attempt by ministers to roll back our rights and guaranteeing we will bring home every protection we had before Brexit.

This isn't radical. It's blindingly simple and sensible. We're asking to keep the same checks on power we have now.

This small change would put the people back at the heart of a process from which they're increasingly being shut out - and stop powerful lobbyists hijacking Brexit at the expense of the rest of us.

If my case teaches us anything, it's that you can't always trust governments to do the right thing. Sometimes they just don't. You need the law on your side.

Of course, no minister would openly admit to being happy to sacrifice hard-won rights for the sake of convenience, or ideology, or because big business was whispering in their ear.

The Prime Minister presents herself as a champion of equality. But that didn't stop her government dragging me through the courts. Actions speak louder than words.

We're talking about people being treated equally, getting to live their lives with dignity and not being discriminated against. There shouldn't even be a debate. It should be in black and white in the letter of the law that every single right we've gained from our time in the EU will be safeguarded for us and future generations when we leave.

We're starting a new chapter as a nation. We mustn't let our country be dragged back into the dark ages. We have a chance to make ourselves a beacon of fairness, justice and equality that other nations aspire to match.

Soundbites, speeches and ministers saying 'trust us' aren't enough when the stakes are this high. Our MPs need to do their jobs, stand up for our rights and back the People's Clause.

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