After David Davis’ shock-not-so-shockingresignation, committed Brexiteer and Vote Leave campaigner Dominic Raab has been promoted to the role of Brexit Secretary.
In charge of the Department for Exiting The European Union, Raab—alongside the PM’s personal Brexit advisor, Olly Robbins—will be negotiating the UK’s departure from the EU which is set to happen in 263 days.
The appointment of the MP for Esher and Walton has caused something of a stir—not least for comments he made in 2011 about the “obnoxious bigotry” of feminists. In an op-ed for PoliticsHome, he claimed that the “flagrant discrimination” against men in society was ignored.
The views of the Brexit Secretary on women and feminism matter—not least because they tell us something about the kind of Brexit he might pursue for the UK, and whose rights could be under threat.
The "burden" of employment regulationAlongside his attack on feminism, 2011 saw the publication of Raab’s report, Escaping the Straitjacket.
In it, he criticised the “burden of employment regulation” and recommended excluding start-ups and small businesses from the National Minimum Wage for those workers under the age of 21.
Raab also advocated the introduction of no-fault dismissal, and recommended we abolish the Agency Workers Regulations and Working Time Regulations.
It’s the latter two that are of specific interest when it comes to Brexit.
Along with most of the improvements to women’s and workers’ legal rights over the last forty years, these two regulations are underpinned by EU law.
The threat to worker's rightsWhen Raab wrote his report in 2011, Brexit was not particularly on the agenda, and any moves to repeal EU workers’ rights directives were—at best—speculative.
But 2018 is a very different world, and such regulations could soon easily be removed from the UK’s legislature.
Raab’s 2011 recommendations to ditch workers’ rights send a warning to the kind of Brexit his department wants to deliver.
When we leave the EU, both the Agency Workers Regulations and Working Time Regulations will be adopted into UK law—along with all other EU laws.
However, in the terms of the recently-voted for EU Withdrawal Bill, ministers will have wide-ranging ‘Henry VIII’ powers that allow them to amend or repeal laws without a parliamentary vote.
In other words, these powers give the government a chance to get rid of the bits of EU law it doesn’t like.
Cutting the red tape?As we can see, the new Brexit Secretary doesn’t much like those bits that protect workers and which he considers to be a barrier to business.
He’s not alone. Raab’s colleague in the Department for Exiting the EU Martin Callanan has called to scrap the Agency Workers Directive and the Working Time Directive.
Meanwhile, leading Brexiteer Iain Duncan Smith sees Brexit as an opportunity to “whittle away” unnecessary rules and cut the red tape imposed from Brussels.
They are just two of the prominent Leavers who celebrate Brexit as a chance to create a market that is more ‘flexible’ and ‘competitive’—i.e. deregulated.
Callanan also suggested we get rid of EU regulations to protect pregnant workers: a clear attack on women’s working rights.
While Raab’s 2011 paper did not go this far, his proposals to cut the minimum wage and scrap EU workers’ regulations will have a disproportionate impact on women.
Women make up the majority of low paid workers, and are the majority of insecure and temporary workers.
In the lowest paid employment sector—care and social work—women make up 80 per cent of the workforce.
Attempts to weaken regulations that hit low paid, part-time and precarious (i.e. agency) workers would therefore hit women first, and hit them hardest.
The canary in the political coalmineThis is supported by research by the Women’s Budget Group into the impact of Brexit on gender equality. Their report argued that Brexit “will hit women hard, leading to lost jobs, cuts to services and a squeeze on family budgets.”
Women’s rights are the canary in the political coalmine. The attitudes of our political decision-makers towards protecting women’s equality can tell us a lot about what their priorities are.
Despite the fact that Brexit risks having serious consequences for gender equality, there has been very little discussion on what leaving the EU means for women. There has been no parliamentary debate on the subject, and no equality impact assessment on how women’s rights might be affected.
With Raab calling feminism “obnoxious bigotry,” and his attacks on the workers’ legislation that benefits majority women employees, this is unlikely to change any time soon.
Instead, his actions send a troubling message about the kind of Brexit he’ll be bringing home to the UK from Brussels’ negotiating rooms.
If he gets his way, it will be one where workers’ rights—and women’s workers’ rights in particular—are seen as acceptable collateral damage.