December 13, 2019 at 8:09 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
UK election results pave way for Brexit, prompt activists concern
Boris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Photo by Chatham House via Flickr)

The results of Thursday’s elections in the U.K. have all but assured the country will soon leave the European Union.

The BBC reported Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party now has 365 seats in Parliament, compared to the 203 seats that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has. Activists with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Friday said Brexit could prove harmful to LGBTQ Brits because some of the European Union’s human rights standards will no longer apply to the country.

“Brexit will happen and LGBT+ people will lose the legal protection against discrimination that is enshrined in the E.U.’s Charter of Fundamental Rights,” said Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBTQ activist who is director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, in an email to the Blade.

Tatchell noted the U.K. will “still have the safeguards of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights” once the country leaves the European Union.

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern in a statement to the Blade said the Conservative Party under former Prime Minister David Cameron supported marriage rights for same-sex couples. Stern also noted Johnson voted for civil partnerships and had openly gay advisors.

“One hopes this history means that the rights and recognition the LGBTQ community has enjoyed from the government of the U.K. in recent years will remain relatively unchanged,” Stern told the Blade.

“However, the election results bring destabilizing uncertainty,” she added, while noting the U.K’s 2010 Equality Act that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation is based on the European Union’s Equal Treatment Directive that was adopted in 2006.

“How nondiscrimination laws based on E.U. law will fare in the aftermath of Brexit is unknown,” said Stern.

Stern told the Blade there are also concerns “about the future of” efforts to update the country’s 2004 Gender Recognition Act — which allows trans Brits to legally change their gender with the approval of medical and legal professionals — “under a more conservative government in an era of global anti-trans rhetoric.” It remains unclear whether Johnson’s government would support activists’ efforts to allow trans people to legally change their gender in the U.K. without medical or legal intervention.

“There are also questions about this government’s commitment to foreign assistance, which has been a mainstay of support for the global LGBTIQ movement and developing countries around the world,” Stern told the Blade..

Tatchell agreed with Stern’s concerns over trans rights under Johnson’s government. Tatchell also told the Blade that “further advances seem doubtful” on other issues that include universal access to PrEP in the U.K. and compensation for men who were convicted under homophobic laws.

“The ire of Tories is more focused on immigrants, refugees and the E.U.,” he added.

State Department welcomes election results

The Brexit referendum narrowly passed in 2016, with the majority of voters in England and Wales supporting the “leave” campaign. The majority of voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland opposed Brexit.

British politics have remained deeply polarized over the issue. Johnson, along with President Trump, are among those who support Brexit.

“The United States and United Kingdom share a unique partnership and essential alliance, based on a strong foundation of shared values and democratic principles,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Friday in a statement. “We look forward to continuing our critical work together with Prime Minister Johnson and his government to further strengthen our enduring special relationship, address mutual challenges, and build on the progress and prosperity we have made on so many fronts.” 

“The United States is committed to the U.S.-U.K. shared global agenda, including expanding our robust economic relationship by reaching a comprehensive free trade agreement with the U.K. once it formally withdraws from the European Union,” she added.

Three advocacy groups in the U.K. — Stonewall U.K., the Equality Network in Scotland and the Rainbow Project in Northern Ireland — have yet to respond to the Blade’s request for comment on the election results.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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