- The UK will leave the European Union at the end of this year – but there are no guarantees for the LGBT+ rights the EU has granted.
Britain’s University of Law warns LGBT+ people will be more vulnerable to abuse or discrimination after Brexit.
The UK is still under EU law until the end of the transition period on 31 December this year.
However, after that, British politicians can start to undermine European laws which have been instrumental in giving LGBT+ people vital rights.
The University of Law’s fresh warning echoes two reports GSN commissioned during the Brexit process.
Written by leading human rights lawyers and academics, our Brexit reports explained how the EU acted as a kind of insurance policy against a British government undermining LGBT+ protections.
Now Matthew Tomlinson, dean of the Leeds Campus at UK-wide The University of Law, says Brexit ‘could cause serious problems for the rights of the LGBT+ community’.
Moreover he adds: ‘I hope the UK Government provides clarity to the community on what laws are in place to protect their rights post-Brexit. This will understandably be a huge worry at this time.’
Brexit removes guarantees on LGBT+ rights
Tomlinson explains that the EU has pushed many LGBT+ rights improvements onto the UK. Most significant of all is the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which legally protects LGBT+ people against discrimination.
Article 21 of the Charter outlaws discrimination for many reasons, including race, religion and disability. Vitally, it includes sexual orientation and gender.
Furthermore, while Britain is part of the EU, it has to obey this charter. That prevents homophobic British politicians from undermining LGBT+ and other rights. However, that will no longer be the case on 1 January 2021.
Last year, GSN and the campaign for a People’s Vote on Brexit researched Brexit-supporting Members of Parliament. Our damning report revealed that most of them do not support LGBT+ rights.
Now Tomlinson says: ‘The Charter is the highest level of law in the EU. Article 21 legally protects the LGBT+ community from discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation.
‘However, this will cease to exist in UK law once Britain leaves the EU, which is a worrying thought.
‘Taking away the Charter makes members of the LGBT+ community vulnerable to abuse or discrimination, purely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.’
Gradual erosion of rights
Tomlinson says this won’t happen overnight. However, he warns politicians could gradually start to replace the rights the Charter give LGBT+ UK citizens:
“The UK Government will have free reign to make their own legislation after Brexit. Current laws protecting the community could sadly be compromised.
‘In the government’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), there is also a clause that allows British Courts to overturn rulings by the European Court of Justice. In a worst-case scenario, this could cause serious problems for the rights of the LGBT+ community.’
To explain how this happens, he uses the example of a European Court of Justice ruling in 1996. The case is called P v S and Cornwall County Council:
‘This landmark case took place after a trans woman was dismissed from her job after telling her employers she was undergoing gender reassignment, which led to the prohibiting of discrimination against transgender people in employment or education.’
But the WAB allows British courts to reopen that ruling. And they may rule against trans rights. This, Tomlinson warns, could undermine ‘the fundamental rights of the entire trans community’.
Moreover, he says the UK Parliament could pass new laws that counteract older laws, like the Equality Act:
‘As a new law is a more recent act of parliament, it would take precedence, which could cause more problems for the community.’
Europe gave Britain many LGBT+ rights
Meanwhile he adds that many of the rights LGBT+ people enjoy in Britain only exist because of the EU:
‘To understand more about what LGBT+ laws will look like after Brexit, we must look at where the majority of them have come from.
‘Interestingly, before the passing of the Equality Act in 2010, which legally protects people against discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation, race or gender, the majority of LGBT+ rights in the UK came from EU Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
‘The past has shown that the UK is somewhat behind the rest of Europe when it comes to passing LGBT+ laws.
‘As recently as 1997, there were no laws protecting LGBT+ people in the UK.
‘Although same-sex marriage was legalised in the UK in 2013 and came into force in 2014, this was still many years behind other European countries, including The Netherlands (2001), Belgium (2003), Spain (2005), Sweden (2009) and Portugal (2010).’
GSN’s Brexit warnings
GSN also worked with People’s Vote to mobilize people for protest marches in London calling for a second referendum. The marches were among the biggest protests the UK has ever seen.