Women’s (Lack of) Rights After Brexit

Most of us are aware of the fact that those of us who need to use sanitary products must pay the “tampon tax”. It doesn’t seem to be all that widely known, however, that this is an issue relevant to Britain’s involvement in the EU. In an uncharacteristically sympathetic move, Leave campaigners used the feminist campaign to scrap the tax as an argument to vote for their cause.

Paula Sherriff, Labour MP for Dewsbury; “Our chancellor is unable to take this decision that will benefit women because VAT is controlled by the EU. The only way to get this change is to Vote Leave on 23 June.” 

Of course, as this was from the Leave movement, this ended up being a lie. One day after this quote was published in The Guardian, the EU made a promise for the Tampon Tax to be scrapped in Britain. The push for this came from David Cameron, someone who had voted less than a year earlier against an effort to gather information for the gender data gap (another feminist issue). 

Laura Coryton, founder of Stop Taxing Periods; “I do feel that if the Brexit debate wasn’t happening, Cameron wouldn’t have done a deal with Brussels [to scrap the tax].” 

In fairness to Cameron and others who wanted the referendum to happen, the above statement may well be true. However, the tampon tax was likely to be abolished by the EU with Cameron’s input or not, seeing as a number of other member states had been calling for the same thing for a while. Even if Brexit does happen, the reforms to EU law enabling the tax to be scrapped will not be put into effect until 2022 – perhaps if they weren’t so distracted with a certain debate this could be done earlier…

Okay, whilst that may simply be pointing the finger, it would also be unrealistic to think that the referendum was ever called for with women’s rights in mind. In fact, if it happens, our rights could be taken away. Most likely there will be people fighting our corner thanks to the 32% of elected MPs who are female (no thanks to the Tories – only 21% of theirs are women). Who knows, we may even have some male allies in the Commons! 

But should we have to be planning for a campaign in which we try to reinstate the rights of women in this day and age? No. 

Should we expect Boris Johnson to prove himself as the “feminist” he once claimed he was? As can be understood from my previous post, pigs will fly before Boris campaigns for improvements in maternity leave.

That leads us on to Reality Check. Reality Check seems to be a group of BBC reporters self-described as;

“dedicated to examining the facts and claims behind a story to try to determine whether or not it is true.”

I’m calling it a group of reporters in an attempt to draw attention to the fact that it is open to human error.

Why does this need to be said? Well, in one of their articles, this statement is made;

“in some cases the UK government has gone further than the rules set by the EU. For example, the 52 weeks of statutory maternity leave in the UK is considerably longer than the 14 weeks guaranteed by EU law.”

In an article which flip flops between agreeing and disagreeing with the idea that the EU guarantees women’s rights, you would expect this statement to be followed by an “examination” of the facts they themselves have presented.

Whether as a result of a need to reduce word count, or lack of awareness, no mention is made of the fact that actually, the UK is severely lagging behind in terms of its maternity pay in comparison with the rest of Europe. The 52 weeks it offers guaranteed leave are not 52 weeks of good income in any sense. There are only six weeks of maternity pay which come close (90%) to the total that would normally be earned, then it’s an allowance of less than minimum wage, and after that 13 of the weeks are completely unpaid.

If you haven’t already read Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez, I’d strongly recommend it. Much of the statistics mentioned in this article come from this book, and I’m sure more articles will be inspired by the horrifying facts and figures that have been bookmarked throughout. The author of the book also spoke at an Anti-Brexit march in London, which perhaps is quite telling of how impactful Brexit will be on women’s lives.

Take Back Control? I think it’s just the men saying that one.



  • Criado-Perez, Caroline "Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men" (Chatto & Windus, 2019)
  • https://www.womanandhome.com/life/news-entertainment/what-is-the-tampon-tax-why-do-we-pay-it-and-when-will-it-finally-be-scrapped-205638/
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35834142
  • https://www.gov.uk/government/news/women-and-girls-set-to-benefit-from-15-million-tampon-tax-fund
  • https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jul/28/tesco-absorbs-tampon-tax-5-per-cent-vat-sanitary-products
  • https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/mar/16/mps-plan-budget-rebellion-against-tampon-tax
  • https://mashable.com/2016/03/18/tampon-tax-brexit/?europe=true
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36286456
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Coryton
  • https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41928747
  • TheyWorkForYou.com

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