Campaigner LAUREN PEMBERTON-NELSON says three years on since the EU referendum things are getting worse, not better. Especially for ethnic minorities and those in the LGBT+ community.
If everything had gone to plan, if everything was as easy as was promised, we would have left the EU by now. But it didn’t and it wasn’t. Brexit is a mess. Whilst I’m grateful that we are still in the EU and my rights as a black bisexual woman are protected more than they might be if we leave, the last three years have provided scary insight into what Brexit Britain could look like.
We’re about to have our third prime minister since Britain voted to leave. Our incumbent prime minister failed to take the UK through the process of departing the EU. In that time, she’s failed people like me in many other ways. Even before she became leader, Theresa May had a poor record on voting for equalities and human rights. But since 2016, she’s added to her dubious record. In order to secure a majority in parliament, she made a deal with the DUP – a party that opposes LGBT+ rights. And under her leadership, the Downing Street press office outed a former Brexit campaigner as gay. In the same time period, Thersea May hasn’t done a great job of helping ethnic minorities either, as evident from her handling of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the Windrush Scandal.
It would be nice to think that things might improve under our next prime minister, but that looks unlikely. In the BBC leadership debate, Johnson stuttered through a question on Islamophobia in an attempt to justify his appalling previous comments. But there’s simply no justification for saying that Muslim women in Burkas look like letter boxes. There’s no excuse for referring to Commonwealth citizens as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. With the track records of our current prime minister and most likely future prime minister, what faith are we supposed to have that the rights of marginalised communities like mine are safe, especially if we lose the protection that the EU provides?
Thanks to the EU, protection around equal pay and better treatment for those on part-time, temporary or agency contracts has improved, which is crucial due to racial and religious discrimination in the labour market, This is especially the case as ethnic minorities are more likely to be on insecure or zero hour contracts. The European Union has helped to progress LGBT+ inequality through The Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, and EU law protects the UK from being able to erase Section 7 of the 2010 Equality Act which protects transgender rights. But if the UK leaves the EU, this could change. For both ethnic minorities and the LGBT+ communirty, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, discrimination based on factors including gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion and sexual orientation is prohibited. Inequality still exists in the UK, and all around Europe- especially for marginalised communities, such as ethnic minorities or members of the LGBT+ community – but the EU has played a part in furthering equality, which may be lost in Brexit Britain.
The third anniversary of the EU referendum made me consider whether things have improved for people in my communities – and it hasn’t. Homophobic attacks increased by almost 150% in the three months after the Brexit vote, and the UK has moved from third place in 2016 to ninth place in 2016 for LGBT+ equality in Europe. There were 30,000 more racially motivated hate crimes committed in 2017/8 than in 2014/5. And when we’re not having to worry about hate crime, we’re worrying about the impact of Brexit on our careers more than our white peers. People say that “leave means leave”, but that seems to be translating into “leave means my communities are at risk.” With our current trajectory, I have little faith that these figures won’t be even worse in a year’s time if we leave.
This is certainly not what we wanted – the majority of ethnic minorities voted to remain in the EU, and the majority of the LGBT+ community want a People’s Vote on Brexit. And the route that we’re heading down doesn’t seem to be what the majority of the country wants either. Neither Brexit, nor simply having a new Prime Minister – especially one who doesn’t even want to give people the final say on Brexit – is a solution to this crisis either. Especially when the future course of Brexit will be determined by the future leader – who will be elected by less than 0.25% of the population, which is the Conservative party leadership. And ethnic minorities will be heavily underrepresented, as 97% of the Tory party is white. How is this representative? How is this democratic?
The treatment that ethnic minorities and members of the LGBT+ community have faced over the past three years hasn’t been great. But I have faith that we can avert disaster and change course by giving the public a voice. Instead of trying to impose the hardest form of Brexit – risking the rights of many – politicians should give the public the chance to have the final say on whether they’re happy with the situation we’re in. The nightmare that we’ve experienced since 2016 needs to end. This summer, we can make a difference before the next leader tries to force us out of the EU. That’s why this summer, I’ll be supporting People’s Vote rallies taking place all over the country. That’s why I think it’s important for allies and members of marginalised communities to support Ethnic Minorities for a People’s Vote and LGBT+ for a People’s Vote. Let Us Be Heard.
– Lauren is the campaigns manager for the Ethnic Minorities for a People’s Vote and LGBT+ for a People’s Vote campaigns.