UK-EU Negotiations: what it says and what it means for women

Date Posted: Thursday 27th February 2020

Brexitequality impact assessmentTrade

Today the Government has published a 30 page document setting out the UK’s approach to Negotiations with the EU which sets out the parameters within which they would like to see a future trade deal with the EU including commitments on labour, tax and environmental regulation.

The Women’s Budget Group has long called for a gender-sensitive approach to any future trade deals post-Brexit. Trade impacts differently on women and men because they are differently situated in the economy. And trade agreements are about more than tariffs and quotas, they cover regulation and standards which impact on many aspects of our lives.

Documents released today confirm that there is reason for concern when it comes to women’s jobs, rights and services.

Workers’ rights

Documents released today abandon previous commitments in the Political Declaration to a ‘level playing field’ with the European Union on all regulation including labour laws. The new negotiating position states that while any future agreement with the EU “should include reciprocal commitments not to weaken or reduce the level of protection afforded by labour laws and standards”(p16), “the Agreement should recognise the right of each party to set its labour priorities and adopt or modify labour laws” (p17.)

Commitments to “tackle bureaucracy and unnecessary regulatory measures” (p12) in Domestic Regulation also ring alarm bells: cutting bureaucracy and red tape is often code for reducing workplace rights and environmental or health and safety protections.

Women are overrepresented in precarious labour including part time (73%), temporary (53%) and zero hour contracts (53.6%) making them most at risk of rights repeal and/or job losses.

Consumer rights

Abandoning the commitment to a level playing field also confirms fears that the UK will not be required to stay in step with the European Union on consumer safety including food standards. We are yet to see detail on a future trade deal with the US but there is widespread concern regarding food standards and agriculture jobs.

Economic impact

The further the UK diverges from EU standards the greater the cost of trading with the EU will become, which will have a serious impact on the UK economy. Our previous reports have shown the impact that this could have on jobs and the cost of living.

Risk of no deal

Since the referendum result in 2016, the Women’s Budget Group has understood that Brexit will disproportionately impact women, especially the most marginalised and precarious women. We are now seeing what this looks like in practice. All future trade deals must undergo meaningful equality impact assessments to ensure they do not worsen inequality and poverty in the UK.

Further reading:

Operation Yellowhammer analysis

Analysis of points based immigration system

Exploring the Economic Impact of Brexit on Women

Analysis of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal