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30 January 2019updated 09 Sep 2021 4:12pm

Brexit is a feminist issue: No deal is not an option for women

Women will bear the brunt of a no deal Brexit. 

By Rosie Duffield

Today, Jeremy Corbyn is at a crossroads. After last night’s display of cowardice in the Commons, the threat of no deal remains, while Theresa May makes her way back to Brussels only to be shown the door as soon as soon she arrives. It’s time for a show of strength from the party, not least for women. 

Corbyn is right that there is a divide in Britain along economic lines between the many and the few. He understands that austerity is sexist, that it hits women harder than men, and that impoverishment and anger motivated people vote to Leave in May 2016. And he respects the will of these constituents.

But – and it’s a big but – this economic divide will only grow if we exit the European Union with May’s deal or no deal.

There are now 58 days until Britain is due to leave the European Union. 58 days for the government to put the interests of the country above the interests of their party and prevent us from departing the EU with no deal at all. Extreme Brexiteers like Boris Johnson would have us believe that a no deal Brexit is closest to what people voted for in 2016. Last weekend his argument appeared to be bolstered, when YouGov released a poll suggesting that a no deal scenario is gaining increasing public support.

But is it really?

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If by people you mean men, then yes, it is. Out of seven options, including May carrying on trying to push her deal through parliament, men narrowly favoured no deal, with 28% choosing no deal compared to 27% choosing to stop Brexit altogether. Women were much more sceptical of leaving the EU without a deal. Only 16% of women thought this the right choice. Their top choice was, in fact, to abandon Brexit and remain in the EU, with 29% of women favouring this option.

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This is no coincidence. Women will be disproportionately impacted by a Brexit of any kind, not least a no deal Brexit. Leaving the EU would be an economic disaster for women, who are overrepresented in zero-hour contract employment, retail and care work. A no deal Brexit could mean that women in Northern Ireland are unable to access safe abortions, and could also result in cuts to funding for the public services that keep women safe. This is not ‘project fear’ hyperbole: every analysis of Brexit, including that from the Treasury itself, shows that Brexit will lead to an economic downturn and less money for public services – services that women rely on the most.

The consequences of a no deal Brexit have been contorted and fudged. But make no mistake: Brexit is a feminist issue. It has been negotiated by and for white men, yet it will be economically worse off women, ethnic minorities, and LGBT+ communities who will be hit the hardest.

With a general election off the table, at least for the time being, Labour’s best opportunity to serve the interests of our supporters is to let the public vote again.

Recent polling also makes clear that women want the opportunity to have a final say on Brexit. Three quarters (73%) of female Labour voters back a People’s Vote. 58% of them say that they would not vote Labour again, because they favour parties who support a People’s Vote including the Lib Dems and the Greens. Meanwhile over half of the Labour MPs who have pledged support for a People’s Vote, including myself, are women. This number is growing by the day. It’s not only in the party’s political interest but also at the heart of our values to support democracy, justice and equality.

No deal Brexit was not on the ballot paper in 2016. We were instead promised by Liam Fox that an EU trade deal would be the “easiest in history”. Michael Gove assured us that “the day after we vote to leave, we hold all the cards and we can choose the path we want”. These promises have been shown to be at best deluded – and at worst, dishonest.

I am proud to be part of the Labour party. I am proud of the work we do to stand up for working people, for the NHS, for ethnic minorities, for women. Brexit threatens a lot of this important work. That’s why I believe Labour should support the opportunity for the public to vote on definitive, clear-cut options about the future of our country.  

More importantly, I believe a People’s Vote is the democratic thing to do. You wouldn’t buy a house without reading the contract first. If Theresa May can take her deal back to parliament, why can’t she afford the electorate the same privilege? The Labour party need to do our job as the opposition, and resist a no deal Brexit in any way possible.

Rosie Duffield is the Labour Member of Parliament for Canterbury. 

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