A Customs Union is a Risk not a Fix: This is what a Tory leadership contest looks like for women

by Jenna Norman on 26.04.19 in Uncategorised


A Customs Union is a Risk not a Fix: This is what a Tory leadership contest looks like for women

Hurrah, Brexit is back! After a week’s hiatus the soap opera that is British politics returns this week with the same old story lines: will Theresa May’s ever deal pass? Will the talks with Labour come to anything? And the question on everyone’s lips, who/what the hell is Mark Francois?

Despite the forthcoming drama a lull of composure seems to have settled over SW1. The extension of Article 50 caused a collective sigh of relief – along with the recess and sunny bank holiday weekend, you could be conned into thinking that Brexit had all but gone away. That bubble is soon to be burst.

There is a sense that a Customs Union type compromise is on the horizon. As usual however there’s a big fact-based fly in this particular Brexit ointment: even a Customs Union still requires the Withdrawal Act to be passed. And, thanks to May’s desperate bid to pass it last time, she is now a hostage to her own fortune and will be forced to quit if the deal is passed.

Cue a Tory leadership contest and a return to the high-drama soap opera. When the People’s Vote campaign released their report, ‘Blindfold Brexit,’ in response to May’s Withdrawal Agreement back in January, even we could not have imagined that the extent to which this slogan would come true.

We are now in a position where parliament could agree to a Customs Union only for a new unelected Prime Minister to rip up the Political Declaration and carry on with whatever Brexit they care to pursue regardless. For women and other marginalised groups particularly, this would be a disaster. The women and men posturing for leadership don’t exactly have the strongest records on women’s rights. Let’s take a closer look:

First up, Boris Johnson 

It’s hardly a hot take to suggest that Boris’s class clown act is a clever guise for what is really a conniving and ruthless long game to secure the keys to Number 10 but has his time finally arrived? Let’s hope not. Just last year Johnson was reported to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for describing women who wear the Niqab as “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”

His past comments on women also include: women go to university because: “they’ve got to find men to marry” and a personal favourite: “‘voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW.’

The icing on this blonde touped cake is that Boris once wrote: “I don’t believe that economic equality is possible; indeed some measure of inequality is essential.” Not exactly brimming with feminist analysis there, Boris.

Ok so what about Dominic Raab?

I’d love to tell you things get better from here but alas, Raab is infamous for his hostility to women’s rights. He famously declared in a PoliticsHome article in 2011 that “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots.” Despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary — including the glacial pace of closing the pay gap and ending violence against women — Raab thinks it is in fact men who have got a “raw deal.”

While we have some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world, we are blind to some of the most flagrant discrimination – against men. From the cradle to the grave, men are getting a raw deal

Raab’s attitudes towards food bank users as those with a “cash flow problem” and disabled children having “wish lists” have been widely publicised elsewhere but it’s worth noting that a 2018 study found that women make up 56% of food bank users and 73% of those receiving carers allowance. Turns out elitism isn’t gender neutral.

Michael Gove? 

Michael Gove is infamous as the Education Secretary who increased teachers’ workloads and decreased their salaries, while spending per pupil fell 8% between 2010 and 2018. Almost three quarters of school teachers are women meaning that it is women who have been predominantly hit by these cuts.

Since Gove also tried to remove climate change from the curriculum, it should not surprise us that he has expended most of his energy as Environment Secretary jockeying for the Tory leadership. After all, “the people of this country have had enough of experts.”

Dare I even ask about Jeremy Hunt? 

Best not to be honest. After all this is the man who confirmed to The Times in 2012 that he was in favour of halving the abortion limit. “I voted to reduce the time down to 12 weeks. I still have that view,” he said.

Sticking with health, all major medical bodies passed no confidence motions on our former Health Secretary — and no surprise. On his watch, waiting times for cancer care and A&E increased, thousands of nurses (89% of whom are women) resigned due to poor working conditions and pay, and the social care sector has been ravaged beyond compare. Approximately 1.2 million people aged 65 and over in England (1 in 8) have unmet care needs, an increase of 48% since 2010.

As Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described Saudi Arabia – a country where women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or obtain a passport and the death penalty still stands – as a “ very very important military ally.” He also suggested Singapore, a country where there is no anti-discrimination legislation and which ranks 147 out of 159 in Oxfam’s Inequality index, as a model for post-Brexit Britain.

A Customs Union is a risk, not a fix 

All in all it’s not looking good. Women for a People’s Vote has long been concerned about what Brexit means for the security of our hard-earned rights. With these ideologues lining up to follow May as PM now is hardly the time to be complacent about the status of women. We’ve already seen just how easy it is for populist misogynist to gain national credence elsewhere in the world. Waving through May’s Withdrawal Agreement on the meaningless promise of a Customs Unions is a risk, not a fix. We need a People’s Vote to make a genuinely democratic decision about the future of this country. We cannot afford to leave it to the boys.