LGBT ‘super choir’ to perform outside Parliament ahead of crunch Brexit vote

11 June 2018

A 100-strong LGBT+ “super choir” will sing outside Parliament today ahead of a series of crunch EU Withdrawal Bill votes, urging MPs to safeguard key human rights protections currently at risk, including those relied on by the LGBT+ community.

Organised by Amnesty International, Liberty and Stonewall, the combined chorus - which includes members of Pink Singers, Diversity Choir and Fourth Choir - will stage an open-air performance in Old Palace Yard at 6pm on Monday 11 June.

The choral campaigners are calling on MPs to ensure that safeguards currently contained in the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and derived from the so-called EU “General Principles” are retained in domestic law (see below), and that Ministerial ‘Henry VIII’ powers aren’t able to be used to dilute existing rights and equality protections.

Amendments recently voted through by the House of Lords have sought to retain the protections provided by the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the right of action based in the General Principles while also placing sensible limits on ministerial powers that should stop them being used to dilute other existing rights and equality laws. MPs now must vote on whether to keep the Lords amendments.

The significance of the protections is demonstrated by cases such as that of John Walker who used the EU General Principle of non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation to win equal pension rights for same-sex couples in the UK. Represented by Liberty, he challenged a loophole in the Equality Act after his employer refused to pay his husband the same pension benefits as a wife would receive if John died.

Mr Walker said:

Liberty client John Walker at the Supreme Court

“Last year the Supreme Court struck down a legal loophole letting employers discriminate against same-sex couples like me and my husband. EU laws made that huge step forwards for basic fairness and decency possible – but the Withdrawal Bill puts them at risk.

“Ministers are actively seeking to strip us of the very equality protections that came to my rescue and to stop others using them to defend their rights in future. This goes beyond tribalism, party politics or leave versus remain – MPs must vote to keep the Lords’ amendments if they want to bring their constituents’ rights home.”

Amnesty, Liberty and Stonewall are currently campaigning to ensure that, as the UK prepares to leave the EU, existing human rights protections, such as the right of action based on the general principles, are not removed or watered down.

Kate Allen, Amnesty International UK’s Director, said:

“Brexit should not mean losing rights and protections. We want to see MPs sending a clear sign that human rights transcend politics.

“This is a crucial vote and we should all be worried about our rights being reduced. I hope MPs realise that equal treatment is an important part of our society, and we need to keep every means of enforcing equal rights. Hopefully we can all sing from the same hymn sheet on that.”

Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, said:

“The Government is way out of tune with the public on this. It has no mandate to take away our human rights after Brexit. None of us voted to give up laws that let us challenge discrimination and abuses of power in our own courts.

“Peers sent a strong message to ministers that they cannot use Brexit to shirk parliamentary democracy or undermine the public’s rights. They haven’t proposed anything more radical than keeping the rights we already have. It’s time for MPs to face the music, put protecting our rights ahead of protecting the Prime Minister, and vote to keep these vital amendments.”

Laura Russell, Head of Policy at Stonewall, said:

“We’ve been watching Brexit negotiations closely and working to ensure the hard-won rights of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people are not at risk when we leave the European Union.

“Thanks to a cross-party effort from the House of Lords, we now have a real chance to safeguard the fundamental rights of LGBT people and make sure they have guaranteed protection after March 2019. We’re calling on all MP’s heading into the Chamber tomorrow to Come Out For LGBT equality and vote in favour of these critical amendments.”

Brexit and the Bill’s threat to rights

The Government’s original EU Withdrawal Bill proposes three major changes which would reduce or threaten rights and protections for people in the UK after withdrawal:

  1. The Bill fails to retain the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in domestic law, taking away distinct rights in areas like digital privacy.
  2. The Bill also gets rid of the right for people to bring a case founded on the EU “general principles”, which include protections such as the right to equality before the law.
  3. The Bill hands sweeping powers to Ministers to widely alter legislation without appropriate parliamentary scrutiny, placing current rights and equality laws at risk in the future.