It is under a year until Britain formally leaves the European Union on 29 March 2019. Yet with such little time left, many aspects of our departure remain unclear. Most professional predictions of the impact of Brexit are negative rather than positive, and the situation looks especially challenging for members of marginalised groups, such as women, ethnic minorities, and people who are LGBTQ+. Although these groups are disadvantaged for many reasons, leaving the EU will have an even greater effect on those already struggling in society.
For example, the Women’s Budget Group predicts that women will be worse affected by Brexit than men because of a difference in their working and consumer lifestyles. Industries which involve the trade of clothing and textiles are likely to suffer as the uncertainty about future deals continues. These industries are dominated by women, both in terms of staff and consumers, and as a result, women are more likely to see an increase in redundancy or a decrease in pay. Additionally, it is already well-documented that the budget deficit negatively affects women and minorities more substantially than it does men. Increased financial hardship following our departure from the EU is only going to worsen the situation. Our post-Brexit deficit is reckoned to be around £20-40 billion.
It must not be forgotten that the EU has helped achieve greater gender equality in the workplace. For example, there is the Agile Nation 2 scheme, jointly funded by the EU and the Welsh Assembly, which commits £12 million to help women in 500 Welsh businesses enhance their careers free of charge through advice services and increased opportunities. Brexit is likely to see the ending of such programmes, denying thousands of women access to resources which previous generations have relied upon to enhance their careers. The EU also enforces several pieces of legislation which protect women in the workplace, such as the right to equal pay, the right of part-time workers to receive pensions, and rights concerning parental leave. While many members of the British parliament want to protect these laws, it is possible that the current or future government, seeking to make Britain a low-regulation business paradise, will slash such workers’ rights. As the Brexit deadline moves inexorably closer, women are vulnerable on several fronts.
The potential risks that face Brits in the LGBTQ+ community are also ones associated with their rights, thus claims about the impact of Brexit are hotly disputed by politicians. Legislation such as the Gender Recognition Act of 2004 is a result of the European Court of Justice interfering with British legislation in order to protect the status of those the national government failed. This makes the EU an invaluable support system for those in the LGBTQ+ community. Yet the British government, in their statements in the High Court case concerning gender neutrality on passports, have proven they cannot be trusted to maintain these rights once we leave the EU. Somewhat surprisingly, hate crime towards LGBTQ+ has grown in the two years since the vote to leave, as have rates of prosecution for hate crime. Both in terms of legislation and persecution, Brexit poses many risks to this already vulnerable community.
However, the most obvious and despicable repercussions of the vote to leave the EU have been on ethnic minorities. In the eleven months following the vote, race-related hate crime went up by 23% in every police constabulary in the country except the City of London. The country's vote to leave emboldened those with hostile views concerning immigration. This is on top of the economic uncertainty that comes with Brexit, which ethnic communities would certainly not welcome. To take just one example, Afro-Caribbean and Bangladeshis compose a large section of the working class. The inflation deemed inevitable following our exit will worsen their already poor standard of living.
The media and parliament discuss the negative implications of Brexit on a purely economic basis. This is not unreasonable, as the future of the British economy is very uncertain even without the daunting prospect of exiting the EU. Yet economic risk is not the only threat the country faces. Members of society who already struggle to be treated as equals now face a further challenge. It is the duty of anyone concerned with inequality to start a proper conversation about this new injustice piled upon the vulnerable.