Doughty – On rights of same-sex couples, Government’s Withdrawal Bill is beginning to fall apart

The EU (Withdrawal) Bill may contain a loophole which could take pension rights away from same-sex couples, it has emerged.

In the House of Commons debate on the Bill, SNP MP Joanna Cherry raised the case of John Walker, who won a case at the Supreme Court under EU law to ensure that same-sex couples enjoy equal pension rights to heterosexual couples. She warned that the Bill could put an end to this ruling, as it was based on EU rather than British law.

In response, David Davis said “we will find a way of correcting that problem”, minutes after boasting that the Bill would not cause any reduction in the rights enjoyed by British people.

Commenting, Stephen Doughty MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said:

“It hasn’t taken long at all for this shambles of a Bill to begin to fall apart under scrutiny. Just minutes after boasting that this Bill would not take away anyone’s rights, David Davis has been forced to concede that it may well take a vital right away from same-sex couples. 

“The Government needs to act urgently to correct this loophole in order to give certainty to thousands of couples the length and breadth of Britain.

“We have no way of knowing how many more of these nasty surprises could be hiding in the weeds of the Withdrawal Bill. What’s clear is that MPs have a duty to vote it down on Monday, to prevent citizens’ rights from being weakened and taken away.”

/ends

Notes to editors:

The transcript of the exchange between Joanna Cherry MP and David Davis MP is below:

Joanna Cherry: “Following on from the point made by the Right Honourable Member for Beaconsfield (Dominic Grieve), the Secretary of State has asked for concrete examples of rights that will be lost to UK citizens as a result of this act, so I'd like to give him one and ask for his undertaking that he will amend the act to make sure this right won't be lost. Earlier this summer, a man called John Walker relied on EU equality law to bring his successful challenge to a loophole in UK law that meant employers could refuse to pay same-sex partners the same pensions benefits as heterosexual couples, if the funds were paid in before December 2005. And the Supreme Court, our Supreme Court, not the European Court of Justice, agreed that there was a loophole in UK law which was a violation of the general principles of non-discrimination in EU law. So Mr Walker was able to use his right of action under the general principles of EU law to close that loophole so that he and his husband can enjoy the same rights as a heterosexual couple. That wouldn't be possible under this bill because, as the Right Honourable Gentleman said...under this bill there's no right to sue. Will he give an undertaking that he will close this loophole in the bill if we bring forward an appropriate amendment?” 

David Davis: “I think that will be brought forward in the course of the bill's translation. But if not...I am standing exactly by my undertaking, if not, she should come to me and we will find a way of correcting that problem.”

The case is described in more detail here:  https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/12/man-wins-equal-pension-rights-for-husband-at-supreme-court

At the time, John Walker’s lawyer said: “We are delighted the supreme court recognised this pernicious little provision for what it was – discrimination against gay people, pure and simple. But this ruling was made under EU law and is a direct consequence of the rights protection the EU gives us. We now risk losing that protection.”