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There Is No Mandate For A Hard Brexit That Will Leave Women Worse Off

08/03/2017 13:11
Clodagh Kilcoyne via Getty Images

all women everywhere

The Chancellor of the Exchequer's nickname in Westminster is 'Spreadsheet Phil'. It's catchy, but inaccurate. Because this Chancellor is fully signed up to the Government's strategy of seeking the hardest of hard Brexits; a decision that, as we should remember this International Women's Day, will hit women worst of all in the years ahead.

Nobody should be in any doubt about the threat hard Brexit poses to women in Britain and around the world. Leaving the Single Market and the Customs Union will damage our economy and put up prices in the shops, making life harder for working women and those living in poverty. European Union laws that deliver rights for women and protect us against discrimination could be lost. And the UK's ability to stand up for women around the world, especially those in poorer, patriarchal countries, will be reduced.

Leaving the Single Market and Customs Union will create a poorer future for Britain's women. Being able to trade freely with the world's biggest market has kept prices low, as we can import things like food from Europe at a very low cost. A hard Brexit would introduce punishing tariffs on all our imports and exports. These would be highest on food - 40 per cent on lamb, for instance - and therefore the cost to supermarkets would increase. They would then pass on this cost to consumers by raising prices. At a time when prices are already rising thanks to higher inflation, this would make the cost of the weekly shop even higher.

And it isn't just food. Having a large, Europe-wide market naturally is more efficient than a smaller, UK-only market. So if we do leave the Single Market, we can except energy bills and airline fares, to name but two, to increase. David Davis has said that the Government will negotiate a trade deal that delivers 'the exact same benefits' as we have now. But if the Government is intent on leaving the Single Market, this will simply not be possible; and British women will be worse off. Besides, given their broken promises so far - remember that £350million a week for the NHS? - it would be unwise to trust this Government on trade and the economy,

EU rules also protect women. They deliver guaranteed paid maternity leave, and a right to return to your job after taking it. Pregnant women are protected from discrimination and allowed to take automatic leave to see their doctor. Discrimination against women, be it on pay or anything else, is banned. The Government asks us not to worry, saying that all these laws will be kept after Brexit through the Great Repeal Bill. But Tory MPs have spent decades waiting to get rid of EU 'red tape' - why should we trust them now? And the House of Lords Constitution Committee has shown that it would be possible for the Government to scrap many EU rules during the Brexit process without even getting Parliamentary approval. Under a hard Brexit, women's' rights will be at the mercy of Tory politicians, and I for one do not trust them to act in the best interests of women. It was David Davis again who let the cat out of the bag in Parliament, saying that the Government's intention was to "repeal, I mean, amend" 40 years of women's rights legislation.

A close relationship with Europe has always magnified Britain's influence in the world. That allows us to be a positive force; for example, by standing up for women's' rights globally. For example, the EU combats sexual exploitation and trafficking of women through police and judicial cooperation across Europe. Europol's Project HAVEN coordinates activity across Europe to detect and disrupt travelling sex offenders originating from the EU who exploit children both inside and outside of Europe. And the EU is a world leader in fighting the scourge of female genital mutilation (FGM). If we cut ourselves off from our European partners, our ability to work together internationally to stand up for women will be lessened.

There is a mandate for Brexit, but not for a hard Brexit that leaves women worse off. The Government needs to change course and adopt a new course that prioritises the rights, safety and economic wellbeing of women in the Brexit negotiations - not as figures on a spreadsheet, but as human beings.

Mary Creagh is the Labour MP for Wakefield and a leading supporter of Open Britain

HuffPost UK is running a month-long project in March called All Women Everywhere, providing a platform to reflect the diverse mix of female experience and voices in Britain today

Through blogs, features and video, we'll be exploring the issues facing women specific to their age, ethnicity, social status, sexuality and gender identity. If you'd like to blog on our platform around these topics, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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