During an appearance on Stylist’s new political TV show Women of the House, Phillips argued that Brexit is disrupting important legislation that would help vulnerable women.
It’s easy to feel disillusioned about Brexit. The in-fighting, the chaos, the apparent lack of a coherent plan to get Britain out of the EU: it’s enough to frustrate even the most committed of Leave voters.
And according to politician Jess Phillips, Brexit has also prevented the introduction of new laws that would protect women’s rights. Speaking on Stylist’s new political TV show Women of the House, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley said that Brexit is “taking up all the [government’s] time”. As a result, some important pieces of women-focused legislation “that should have gone through” have been dropped.
Phillips cited the example of a law that would have banned violent perpetrators of domestic abuse from cross-examining victims in family courts.
She and her colleagues “worked incredibly hard” on that legislation “for over a year, getting cross-party consensus,” she said. But “it all just fell away” once Brexit began to absorb all the government’s attention.
MPs have asked the government to look at that legislation again, Phillips added, but they’ve been told that “there isn’t the time because of Brexit”.
“So that means that every day in the country there is a woman being cross-examined by a man who may have beaten or raped her, in a court, who can’t get legal aid.”
Phillips isn’t the first person to raise the alarm about how Brexit could affect women’s rights. In July, a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) warned that women could lose important equality and human rights protections – including employment rights and funding for women’s services – when the UK leaves the EU.
The Department of Health has also said that Brexit could result in a dramatic reduction in the number of EU care workers coming into the UK – something that could mean that women are forced to drop out of the workforce to become carers for sick or elderly relatives.
And women’s rights aren’t the only issues that Phillips believes are being sidelined because of Brexit and its accompanying political drama. There are more homeless people in her constituency in Birmingham now than she has ever known in her life, she said.
“Yet when I come to Westminster it’s as if none of those issues matter, and I have to listen to [people] worrying about who Boris Johnson is friends with this week. It is woeful.”
Phillips said that she wasn’t downplaying the significance of Brexit or suggesting that the government shouldn’t be spending time on its negotiations with the EU. However, she does believe that it is distracting MPs from important social issues, something that causes her “deep sadness”.
“Of course Brexit is important, and giving it lots of energy is important,” she said. “But we shouldn’t ignore the fact that while our eye is off the ball, people are suffering because we cannot make legislation that would improve things for them.”
Phillips’ comments were made during the first episode of Stylist’s new political TV series Women of the House.
The brand new show – launched ahead of the 100th anniversary of women in the UK being allowed to stand for election for the first time – is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, and is designed to give female MPs a collaborative and good-humoured space to discuss the political issues that matter most to them.
Phillips appeared on the show alongside SNP MP Hannah Bardell, Conservative Kemi Badenoch and Sky News presenter Isabel Webster.
Find out more about Women of the House and watch the full first episode here.
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