Brexit and Women’s Rights – Protecting Equalities Legislation

Women's Conference Saturday leaflet final


  1. Brexit is already damaging the economy. Brexit harms those who can least afford it.
  2. Labour has long tradition of internationalism. Membership of the EU is a vital part of this.
  3. Labour members and voters are overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit. We must be true to members’ and voters’ views.

With the economy worsening as a result of the threat of Brexit, women feel the effects more. I am pleased to be speaking in Brighton at a fringe meeting discussing the impact of Brexit on women with Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, Kate Green MP, Professor Aisha Gill of Roehampton University, Viv Pointon from Labour Against Brexit and Megan Corton Scott from Fabian Women’s Network. We are meeting at 6pm on Saturday 23rd September at Friends Meeting House, Ship Street, Brighton, BN1 1AF. The meeting is open to everybody.

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Fabian Women’s Network Visits European Parliament


As in previous years, I was very pleased to recently host the Fabian Women’s Network – their sixth annual visit – as part of the group’s mentoring scheme, developing skills in political activism amongst women. The group were guided through the workings of the EU institutions and met with fellow Labour MEPs. There was great insight from the group in spirited discussions throughout the day. Visiting on the eve of the triggering of Article 50, their dedication to seeking progressive solutions was an inspiration and their direct challenge to MEPs – to make politics work better for women – will certainly stay with all of us.


The group were joined by colleagues from the Socialist and Democrat group and Zita Gurmai of PES Women who issued an impassioned call to mobilise for feminist change. Swedish MEP, Jytte Guteland highlighted the institutional change that is necessary to tackle the gendered bias in the workings of the European Parliament at every level. She urged that all staff and MEPs are properly trained in this area and drew attention to the need for a fair distribution of reports according to gender, as well as in the recruitment of staff.



We were also pleased to meet with Dagmar Schumacher, Director of UN Women, and feminist campaigner Pierrette Pape from the European Women’s Lobby. Reporting from the recent sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York City, they called for vital feminist movement-building that is responsive to the a bolstered global backlash against women’s rights.


Blog PES group


Christine Revault d’Allonnes Bonnefoy spoke on her important work as Rapporteur on the European Parliament’s accession to the Istanbul Convention; an essential tool in the prevention of violence against women and securing access to justice. Mady Delvaux and Marc Tarabella fielded questions on the challenges of championing a progressive Europe in the aftermath of the Brexit vote and a buoyed right-wing populist movement.

It was a wonderful day spent showcasing the achievements – and ongoing challenges – of working with the European institutions to affirm women’s rights and gender equality. Although undeniably bittersweet given the spectre of Brexit and the threat it poses to the gains made at EU level, it was heartening, however, to see such an impressive group of dedicated women engage with the issues and call for their rights to be protected.

— Below, participants give an account of their visit —

A group of mentees from the Fabian Women’s Network recently visited the European Parliament in Brussels as part of the FWN’s incredible nine months’ mentoring programme.

The trip to Brussels – sponsored by Mary’s office – is a highlight of each year’s mentoring scheme. But while this year’s followed its usual pattern of an introduction to how the EU works, a session with Mary, and a series of discussions with MEPs, it was also slightly, but significantly, different. It took place on March 28th – the eve of Article 50 being triggered.

The trip was hugely enlightening and inspiring for all who went – yet also, given its timing, rather sobering. Here, four mentees reflect on what the experience meant to them…
My visit to the European Parliament really affected me because, as I listened to a number of MEPs from a variety of European countries speak to us about their determination and work to realise gender equality, I saw first-hand that through exiting the European Union we would be turning our backs on an achievement that the war generation could never have imagined 72 years ago: the ability to cohesively work together with our European neighbours to try and improve the lives of all citizens across the continent.

As Theresa May plays poker through the Brexit negotiations she disrespects not just our European friends but also our ancestors, who suffered decades of conflict to finally reach the point where they could co-operate to create a better future for their descendants.

– Rebecca Geach


The remarkable thing about our visit to the European Parliament was how genuinely European it made me feel. I suspect that the British, who have always been at arm’s length from Europe, need to go to the heart of the EU to understand that belonging to it doesn’t detract from Britishness, it adds another dimension. I need hardly point out the irony of experiencing this the day before Theresa May triggered Article 50.

That feeling of belonging was affirmed by a series of seminars listening to some of the brightest and best MEPs of all nationalities. Whether they were discussing domestic violence or gender equality, immigration or women’s representation, I felt they had our backs. We must continue to offer them our support in return and to work in partnership with them. It is far too soon to accept Brexit as inevitable.

– Jane Middleton

Mary escorted us into the Hemicycle: the unexpectedly beautiful horseshoe-shaped plenary chamber of the European Parliament. We joined groups of excited students from around the world who were taking photos, but our group was quietly reflective, looking at the 28 flags at the back of the Chamber; realising that soon there will be one fewer.

The chamber was designed to encourage consensus, reminding us that, from inception, the European experiment aspired to pragmatic collaboration – not the combative theatrics of the Westminster model. As Mary explained, there are no histrionic speeches from the floor and the real work takes place in committees. A shared characteristic of the many MEPS within the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats that we met was an absence of ego. All were determinedly working within processes complicated by a multiplicity of languages, a variety of cultural backgrounds and undeniable bureaucracy, to achieve something positive and lasting.

The Hemicycle’s symbolic significance lies not just in its design but also in the fact that work on its construction began in 1989: the year the Berlin Wall – a fragment of which stands outside the Espace Léopold – fell.  What a senseless thing to turn our backs on an institution that can count among its many achievements the maintenance of peace and stability within a region long characterised by violent dispute.

– Sheila Chapman


I arrived at the European Parliament with a feeling of hopelessness in light of the UK referendum, but all the MEPs welcomed me.

I listened to example after example of the safeguards and opportunities the EU has provided me and my family. I felt privileged to have been a part of it.

As I shook the hand of Mary Honeyball in thanks for her work, I felt uplifted knowing that wherever the voice of the European Union remains present, there is hope for a future EU which is an exemplar to the UK of how to be a fair, decent, democratic society.

Thank you to each and every member of the European Union. I will miss you.

– Rebecca Hepplestone

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April 11, 2017 · 11:50 am

The Big Questions on Faith, Morality and Politics

Yesterday I appeared on the BBC’s Big Questions talking to Nicky Campbell about morality in politics. The whole programme is available for 28 days on BBC iPlayer at

I attach below the two clips of my contributions. I think it is important that we understand that people of no faith have moral systems, and not assume as sometimes is the case that faith brings morality to politics.

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Legal Affairs Committee votes on EU rules for Robotics – BBC Radio 5 live interview

I spoke with BBC Radio 5 live earlier this week on the Civil Law Rules on Robotics report that was passed by the Legal Affairs Committee in the European Parliament.

This report calls for a robust legal framework that takes account of the increasing impact of robotics on our daily lives with specific consideration of technological developments such as autonomous, driverless vehicles.

You can listen back below.


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Parliamentary Assistant in Brussels

I am recruiting for a Parliamentary Assistant based in the European Parliament in Brussels.


Providing office administration and diary management, including travel arrangements.
Supporting and implementing political campaigns relating to the MEP’s priorities.
Helping coordinate the activities of the MEP with the rest of their group.
Collating and presenting policy-related information.
Liaising closely with the Constituency based staff on operational matters.
Handling both written and electronic correspondence.
Contributing to the MEP’s communications including social media and the website.
Ensuring proper financial management is maintained, including appropriate logging of receipts and expenses.
Maintaining regular communications with the rest of the team


Experience of campaigning, research and policy work.
Excellent organisational, analytical and communication skills.
The ability to write confidently and to task.
Fast and accurate word processing and use of relevant IT packages.
A sound knowledge of the EU and its institutions.
A good knowledge of the the Labour Party and its policies.
A multi-tasker with good time management skills and able to work independently.
Full fluency in English is essential, a good working knowledge of French, with knowledge of other major European languages would be an advantage.
The candidate should be flexible, adaptable and conscientious.
Able to cope with a wide variety of contexts and have an ability to respond to urgent work and act quickly.
Tact and diplomacy, as well as enthusiasm and initiative are essential personal qualities for this post.
Previous experience in a political office would be beneficial.
A proven commitment to equal opportunities

Closing Date: 1st November 2016

Interview/Start Dates

Interviews will be in Central London. First Interview Thursday 3rd November. Second Interview 11th November

The job will start in Brussels in December 2016 or January 2017, there is some flexibility on the exact start date.

Application Details

Applications should consist of a letter of application and a CV. Any queries should be raised by email please. Please email your applications to

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Why hard Brexit is a damaging fantasy

Martin Woolf in yesterday’s online Financial Times hit the nail on the head:

“Formal sovereignty is not power. The UK government announces its intentions. The reaction of others determines results.

“By a thin margin the country voted for some kind of Brexit. But the government has no mandate for the rather extreme version it is choosing. Triggering Article 50 without parliamentary approval might be impossible. It surely ought to be impossible. Moreover, Brexiters insist that their goal is to restore parliamentary sovereignty. Why then does the government plan to ignore parliament when these decisions are taken?”

It’s actually worse than that since Government Ministers also seem to be ignoring their officials, taking the Leave side’s contempt for “experts” to a new low. Brexit Minister David Davis is now accusing Treasury civil servants of trying to undermine Brexit negotiations as part of a “desperate strategy” to keep Britain in the single market.

 The redoubtable Mr Davis whose capacity for fantasy is on an exponentially upward leap, is understood to believe that the warning is part of a “succession of treasury briefings that are damaging negotiations”

Whatever Mr Davis thinks, the Treasury is not making this up. Why would they? Surely their lives would be easier if they went along with the Government and threw the well-being of Britain to the winds. Instead, the much derided officials are doing their duty, warning , amongst other things, that according to leaked draft Cabinet papers, if Britain leaves the Single Market without a new deal it will cost the Treasury £66billion in tax revenues.

Meanwhile the City of London, one time cheer-leaders for the Conservatives, are increasingly worried about the impact tougher immigration controls and departure from the single market could have on their revenues. Miles Celic, chief executive of the influential industry body TheCityUK is on record as saying: A “hard Brexit” that takes Britain clean out of the single market, and leaves the U.K. to trade with the EU under WTO rules, will do “significant” harm to the financial services sector.”

Back to Martin Woolf: “What drove Leavers was, we are also told, “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”. The currency markets demonstrate the emptiness of that principle. Britain’s EU partners are about to do the same. The premise of the Leave campaign was false: a host of decisions that affect the UK will always be taken outside it.”

It would be comic if it wasn’t so serious. We are not talking about cosy sofa politics or even the Oxford Union debating society. This is about people’s lives, their quality of life, their health, their education and just about everything else which relies on government to deliver it. Ultimately, it’s about today’s young people and future generations.


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Keeping London Open to the World for Business

The letter below was sent by LM of Stonebridge to all London MEPs. I am publishing it because I agree that London is the world’s greatest city because it is so cosmopolitan. “We are stronger together, not apart.”

“Dear MEP,

I want to share my views as a resident of London.

In the news I have seen increased headlines about the pound dropping in value as a reflection of government devaluing ‘Great’ Britain and I ask my elected representatives

How are we appreciating and valuing that greatest if we are closing ourselves away from the world? dismissing overseas advice, excluding and segregating workers, medical professionals and students and registering them for working in international companies, naming and shaming companies for not employing British workers, which this alone has an air of antisemitic legislation from 1930’s Germany written all over it. These are not ‘foreigners’ these are human beings just like you and me, no different and without them London and Britain would not be what it is today.

If Britain stayed on this island and never invaded or explored anywhere else we wouldn’t have the diverse and multicultural life that we have let alone the standards that today make Britain what it is – look at tea for a very tiny example, something world known to be ‘British’ and yet it’s origins are Indian. This small example alone shows that as a nation we are not a stand alone ‘great British race’ of people but a collective of many different and varied backgrounds, we are not separate from the EU nor the rest of the world and continuing to peddle the perception that we are is not only to our detriment but the whole world misses out on what we can bring.

What I am getting to here is the fact that regardless of view about Brexit one cannot deny that our lives have been enriched by experiencing different parts of humanity and without this and leaving in a ‘hard Brexit’ or any Brexit for that matter we would be devaluing ourselves even further. We are stronger together, not apart so I ask you to consider this letter when representing London in the European Parliaments.”

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