Ensuring strong equalities legislation after the EU exit Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

The Government’s policy and our inquiry

1.It is clear that the Government’s policy intention is that there should be no erosion of the UK’s equalities protections at the point of leaving the European Union. Our aim in conducting this inquiry has been to ensure that the goal of no erosion of rights and protections is attained. (Paragraph 13)

Retaining the UK’s strong legal equalities protections after exiting the EU

2.At present, domestic legislation and EU legal structures together provide the UK’s strong equality protections. Stakeholders have expressed concern that the removal of the EU legal underpinning, including the court system, will lead to a weakening of equality protection in the future unless its full effects are understood. It is therefore important for the Government, during the process of leaving the EU, to ensure that robust equality protection is embedded at each milestone. The Government should ensure that equality protections—including but not limited to workers’ rights—remain to the fore as negotiations begin and throughout the leaving process. (Paragraph 31)

3.Leaving the EU provides an opportunity to return to Parliament its role to ensure that equalities are robustly protected. The Equality Act 2010 is the culmination of decades of development of domestic protection of equalities. An additional clause in that Act adding a function of a declaration of compatibility into the Equality Act would act as an entrenchment of these rights that were enacted by Parliament. (Paragraph 42)

4.The Government should give strong consideration to bringing forward an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 to mirror provisions in the Human Rights Act 1998. The purpose of that amendment would be to set out that public authorities must not act in a way that contravenes the Equality Act unless required to do so by another Act of Parliament; that ministers, when presenting any Bill, must make a declaration of compatibility with the Act; that interpretation of legislation by the courts must take account of the Act and be read as far as possible to comply with its provisions; and that, if any legislation is incompatible with the Act, a declaration of incompatibility should be made by the court. (Paragraph 43)

5.The Great Repeal Bill will be a significant opportunity for the Government to achieve its objective of maintaining existing equality protections at the point of leaving the EU, and to turn its policy intentions into legislative commitments. (Paragraph 58)

6.The Government should include a clause in the Great Repeal Bill that explicitly commits to maintaining the current levels of equalities protection when EU law is transposed into UK law. A number of different ways of drafting such a clause have been suggested to us, which we invite the Government to consider and comment on. (Paragraph 59)

7.The status in the UK of future EU case law is currently unclear. While the Government has been clear that existing case law will be transposed through the Great Repeal Bill, it has not provided such clarity for future case law. We therefore recommend that the proposed status of future Court of Justice of the EU case law be clarified and legislated for in the Great Repeal Bill. (Paragraph 60)

8.The Government’s White Paper has stated that all existing legislation will be transposed into UK law as part of the Great Repeal Bill. The Government should be clear that this means all EU legal requirements that are in force on the day that the UK leaves the EU, not just those that are in force at the point of triggering Article 50. (Paragraph 61)

9.We note that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has said it does not expect to be in direct communication with the Department for Exiting the EU. In order to identify implications for equality protections as the process of leaving the EU continues, that Department will need to have a strong internal lead on equalities matters and a named Ministerial lead. That lead should work with the Government Equalities Office in order to draw on its expertise. (Paragraph 66)

The role of civil society in UK equalities policy after exiting the EU

10.We believe that there is a wealth of expertise on equalities in civil society organisations that could be harnessed to enhance the development of UK equalities policies after exiting the EU. In some places, there are already platforms or structures in place that may need to be built upon. In others, they need to be developed. A joined-up approach across government departments will be important to ensure cohesive working, and with a focus on each equality area. (Paragraph 78)

11.The Government should develop a cross-government equality strategy, in order to ensure engagement across government departments and provide a platform for linking with and drawing on the expertise of civil society organisations. (Paragraph 79)

Research on and funding for equalities after exiting the EU

12.We welcome the commitment by the Government to consult with stakeholders to review all EU funding. We urge that consultation with equality stakeholders begin immediately. (Paragraph 92)

13.As the UK leaves the EU, the UK Government should actively seek to maintain and embed participation in international networks for equalities research. Networks based around the United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Labour Organisation are likely to become increasingly important. (Paragraph 93)

14.In addition, leaving the EU does not mean that the UK cannot continue to play a part in European networks. This may mean opting into these networks on a pro-rata basis, which may require funding that was previously provided as part of EU membership. The Government should seek to set aside funding for ensuring that UK research and civil society organisations can maintain international links that are vital for ensuring strong equality protection. (Paragraph 94)

15.The Government should assess the extent of research and other equality initiatives that currently receive EU funds. It should then work with research and civil society organisations to identify and develop alternative sources of funding from either state or non-state sources. These funds should be ring-fenced for the same purposes as they were originally allocated for by the EU to allow the current equalities research to continue undisrupted. (Paragraph 95)

24 February 2017