Wednesday, 29 March 2017

UKIP's 6 Tests for a Brexit Deal: Asking the impossible?

In a week when Labour finally revealed its thoughts as to how to approach the Government's Brexit deal, we also (unfortunately) got to hear what the far-right, anti-immigrant, anti liberal party UKIP wanted from the Brexit deal....and what a coincidence...they also have 6 tests that a Brexit deal has to meet before they'll accept it. As an independent I thought I better give them the once-over in the interests of fairness (since UKIP now have ZERO MPs in Parliament) but my goodness, at least two of the suggestions make the idea of Queen Elizabeth II putting on green make up and taking a part in West End's Wicked look vaguely credible.
  • Parliament must be sovereign with no restrictions on its power following the deal
This test pretty much follows what David Davis has called for in the Government's Brexit White Paper. UKIP specifically wants the Tories to ensure that there is Parliamentary supremacy over UK law. This means that the UK must leave the European Courts of Justice (ECJ) and European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) before the end of 2019 with no transitional arrangements in place according to UKIP's demands with Parliament then being allowed to repeal laws in accordance with manifesto pledges or "as the situation allows". PM May has already announced that the UK will leave the ECJ but hasn't yet been 100% clear on whether the UK will leave the ECHR. The practical implications of this UKIP test would mean that no cases should be submitted by UK plaintiffs to the ECJ and ECHR between now and 2019 and any cases that are currently being heard by the ECJ and ECHR featuring UK based defendants or plaintiffs would need to be resolved before December 2019 which may be a very tough ask indeed. PM May seems to have recognised this, admitting to Andrew Neil that ECJ rulings may continue to be made during a "post Brexit implementation period". The EU's key plans indicate such a period would only be allowed to last 3 years in any case.
  • The UK must have full control over its immigration and asylum policies and borders
When the UK leaves the EU, immigration policy will need to be discussed in a reasonable manner, as Labour's Keir Starmer indicated in his speech on Monday . Reasonable discussion does not include the comments made by Gerald Batten, UKIP MEP for London who stated on Monday that EU nationals right to remain the UK should be negotiated "country by country" to ensure each one gives its consent over providing a reciprocal deal for UK nationals in the EU. That will not happen because the EU negotiates as a trading block, not on an individual basis. What was even more absurd to hear from Batten was his suggestion that even if EU nationals are given the right to remain in the UK as a whole, this right should be waived for criminals who have been in UK prisons or have been in prison in the EU. That's all well and good but Batten then has to understand that EU countries have the right to ask for a reciprocal agreement whereby UK nationals in EU prisons or who have been in UK prisons before moving to the EU should be repatriated to the UK. You can't decide to deport EU national criminals and then refuse to take back UK ones or make them stateless.

Batten extends his ludicrous argument to include "those who do not work"- in practice this could mean any EU national who unfortunately finds themselves on JSA despite having worked in the UK previously and "those who never pay taxes" -i.e. any EU national that finds themselves on NLW or slightly above who fall below the Income Tax and/or the National Insurance limit. Cleaners, agricultural workers, part time admin assistants, carers could all find themselves at risk of being deported under Batten's rather broad qualification of "unwanted" EU nationals. That's before you even get to him heartlessly attacking homeless EU nationals whom he calls "beggars" (despite the fact that begging was made illegal under the 1824 Vagrancy Act but has not been strictly enforced because police do not have the resources available to take every beggar off the streets and homeless charities need more funding to set up permanent shelters for homeless people).  Homeless people, whether beggars or not, whether from the EU or not, need our help and support to turn their lives around rather than being cast aside like an unwanted doll. A liberal approach believes wholeheartedly in the power of rehabilitation and besides, if you're going to deport homeless EU nationals and those on NLW, then the EU countries should have the right to reciprocate and the UK will have a duty of care to rehabilitate anyways, whether UKIP members like to admit that responsibility or not.

With regards to this notion of "full control", it has to be stated that no country ever has 100% control over their immigration policies. You can set arbitrary quotas, you can introduce an Australian points system, you can increase border security by 100% and you can deport as many people as you want but there will always be migrants who somehow find a way to enter the country. To suggest there is any such concept as 100% control is fallacy. Besides, the UK was never part of the Schengen agreement so we already have control borderwise (in terms of presenting passports); it was just the Freedom of Movement (FOM) principle that bugged kippers and the Government has already made it clear that they are committed to leaving the Single Market so FOM isn't something that they are seeking.

And as for asylum policy, the UK Government already has control over that. It's just that UKIP want to tighten the legislation even further to attempt to deny people right to asylum if they perceive them as a threat. UKIP need to realise that if they want to change asylum policies, they're going to actually need to win an election outright that isn't for the European Parliament. So instead, liberals will be asking for improvements in facilities at detention centres, reducing application waiting times and providing suitable accommodation and appropriate advice for those who are granted asylum. For those who are not granted asylum, the Government must do everything they can to help people return to their homeland safely and if that is not the case, to reconsider the application.  (See the Refugee Council's website for more information on asylum:
  • Leaving the EU must restore "full maritime sovereignty" to the UK
What to make of this test other than to point out that UK territorial waters already exist; the limit is set "at 12 nautical miles (13.8 miles) from the baseline of a coastal state", in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, (UNCLOS) created in 1982. UKIP just want to enforce an "exclusive economic zone" (also guaranteed under the UNCLOS) of 200 nautical miles "or to the halfway point between the UK and neighbouring EU countries." Now I don't want to be a Dougie Downer but the interesting fact is that the UK already has the fifth biggest EEZ in the world (including Crown Dependencies and British Overseas Territories but the UK doesn't claim its EEZ rights with regards to Gibraltar) so I don't know what EEZ rights now need to be reclaimed or enforced further? What was intriguing reading Labour MEP Richard Corbett's article "Brexit and the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy)" was that many of the rules regarding fishing rights were established pre-EU, having been codified in the 1964 London Fisheries Convention, The LFC granted other states the right to fish in 32 areas of the British coastline. Corbett suggests that the UK would need to end such agreements if the PM wants "full control"over the UK's EEZ.

When it comes to the Brexit negotiations, it has to be made crystal clear that the UK will need to negotiate fishing rights with the EU.  Collaboration is the way forward, not throwing toys out the pram because we feel we don't "own" our piece of the seas. Under the UNCLOS, countries must "jointly manage fish stocks that migrate between two or more countries waters." That's more than 100 species! Stock recovery programmes already agreed to as part of the EU include the Multi-Annual Plan for sole and plaice in the North Sea and the Long-term Plan for West of Scotland herring. The EU will be pressing David Davis's team to remain committed to those stock replenishment plans, regardless of whether fishermen in the UK like these commitments or not.

Leaving the EU will mean it could be harder to negotiate effectively on catch allowances, not least because the UK will have to negotiate its own arrangements with other countries outside the EU like Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands (Northern Agreements). The negotiations will need to be done quickly if PM May follows UKIP's tests, as they do not allow for any transitional arrangements. Corbett raises an important point with regards to Norway and Iceland's fish and seafood trading relationships with the EU: yes they are part of the EEA but trade in fish and seafood is not part of a standard free trade agreement and thus subject to tariffs and quotas. UKIP wants to avoid these by not being part of the EEA or SM but in all likelihood fish and seafood trading being made tariff free is just not going to happen. The UK Government will have to take advice on catch allowances and that means remaining a member of and funding the International Council on the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) whose advice and research is used by the EU to agree Total Allowable Catches (TACs) with member states.  Corbett also notes that membership of regional fisheries bodies (RMFOs), including the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission will need to be negotiated.
The discard ban implemented by the EU was part of a Conservative manifesto commitment and therefore will probably not be repealed.

Then there's the question of whether we will retain membership of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). The UK remains a "quality flag state" whilst a member of EMSA but if we pull out, it may be harder to meet seafarer safety obligations. The UK Government will need to clarify their position ASAP.

On top of all this, it must be noted that the fishing communities have benefited from the EU Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which provides funds for improving fishing vessel safety features and improving the safety of landing sites and auction houses. European Investment Bank Loans have also been extended to fishing communities. It remains unclear as to whether the UK Government will commit to providing the level of funding fishing communities have had from the EU post 2020. UKIP haven't put this in as part of their test which shows that they haven't really thought about the consequences of leaving the EU "in the round". Instead they just focus on getting PM May to ditch the CFP in its entirety as part of the Great Repeal Bill so that fishing vessels have "no backdoor access" to British waters.  There's also no thought given to maritime environmental habit protections which must be respected post Brexit. Also, UKIP haven't addressed the fact that a significant proportion of fish processing workers come from other EU countries. Would there be provisions in any immigration policy that allows experienced fish processing staff to come to the UK post Brexit? The answer should be given as an emphatic YES.
  • UK must have its own seat on the WTO & sign trade agreements on its own
It is expected that if the Brexit deal that PM May and Davis present to Parliament is approved, there may have to be discussions over how the UK represents itself on the world stage, particularly in trading negotiations. That would probably mean that it would be practical for the UK to have its own seat on the WTO so they can sign trade agreements in their own right. They won't be doing it as part of the EU, would they? Where liberals and Labour disagree is over UKIP's ludicrous demand to leave the SM and Customs Union and then set tariffs on WTO rules. That's not what we want to do. UKIP don't mind tariff free trade provided there is "no strings attached" (they don't want to pay for access) but the reality is that if Norway pays to have full access to the SM, the EU won't accept the UK having entirely free access to the SM. If they did, Norway would be well within its rights to ask for a change in status and the Brexit process may end up stalling as a result. "Liberalising trade" post Brexit sounds to me to be code word for tax havening which isn't something liberals and Labour are interested in pursuing after the deal has been implemented.
  • No final settlement for the EU & no on-going payments after we leave
Most political commentators and MPs have accepted there may have to be a payment made to the EU which acts as a final settlement, settling commitments that have been made prior to the triggering of Article 50. Estimates include the final settlement as part of the £50bn quoted but as the House of Lords have pointed out, the UK doesn't have a legal obligation to pay any final settlement.

On-going payments for membership of certain EU programmes and agencies needs to be negotiated and that goes beyond whether the UK has to pay for privileged access to the Single Market (SM). We need to know whether the UK Government wants access to the framework programme 9 project once Horizon 2020 ends so that research and development between EU and UK academic institutions can continue unhindered. There's been little discussion as to whether the UK will retain the European Health Insurance Card (EUHIC) with the NHS picking up the cost of medical treatment abroad or whether everyone will need to get private health insurance before they travel (making that weekend Paris trip look slightly less attractive). Equally, we may have to pay to remain members of Eurpol and Eurjust but this simply hasn't been thought through by the Government. Then of course there is the issue of passporting for banks with offices located in the City of London which may need to be paid for on an annual basis. Losing the banking passport could affect 40 banking organisations who may need to relocate to an EU country to have access to the SM. Passports are granted by the ECB at their discretion. UKIP do not mention any of these considerations in this test. Instead, they demand that the UK Government withdraws money from the European Investment Bank by the end of the negotiation process (£9bn has been invested in the EIB but UKIP haven't spelled out what they would do with that £9bn).
  • Brexit must be "done & dusted" before end of December 2019
Batten rather stupidly said on the Daily Politics show on Monday that the Brexit negotiation could be done "in an afternoon" by stating the UK "just leaves" to take "emergency action" on defence, immigration and trade. Interestingly, Batten didn't mention the environment, workplace protections or education or health in his "emergency action" plan which rather begs the question are UKIP really that bothered about helping to reduce fossil fuel reliance or stop employees from being forced to work above 40 hours a week (through Working Time Directive). Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, has now made it clear that if PM May attempts to remove environmental protections, workplace rights or consumer rights in the UK in the interests of "bargain basement competitiveness"  there will be no deal. Equally, slashing business taxes in order to try and gain an advantage over EU businesses prior to leaving the EU will prevent a deal being reached. The Tories and UKIP may want a bargain basement low tax haven but Remain voters do not. With such negotiations needing to take place alongside arrangements for farming and manufacturing it's painfully obvious that Brexit cannot be done in a day.

The Brexit negotiation may be submitted to Parliament, be voted on and completed before March 2019 (we hope) but transitional arrangements will need to be place to ensure that Brexit is as smooth a process as can be. Still, there's simply no guarantee as to whether this will be the case. UKIP may not like the idea of transitional arrangements but the reality of the situation is that Labour and Tory moderate Backbenchers will call for them, especially when it comes to sorting out agricultural and manufacturing policies from 2020 onwards. UKIP may be afraid of those Remainers who are Lib Dems who want to call for a 2nd referendum on the terms of the deal but they are well within their rights to call for one.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Labour's Brexit Position: Has Keir Starmer Clarified It Sufficiently?

This morning I heard a speech by Labour's Shadow Brexit Minister, Keir Starmer. The aim of the speech was to clarify Labour's position with regards to the Brexit process by laying a 6 key test framework that any Brexit deal thrashed out between the EU & Brexiteer David Davis' team has to pass before Labour give their backing to leaving the EU. The fact that Labour have set out these tests in the first place indicate that Corbyn, Starmer & Co are not willing to allow the UK to leave the EU without a deal being in place....i.e. a ultra clean Brexit that UKIPpers and extreme Tory Brexiteers are craving is totes off the cards. A relief.

What is clear is that some Brexiteers need to go through a reality check. The rhetoric being used in policy discussions and social media exchanges has to change from that of idealistic "aspiration" to that of "compromise and negotiation". I feel that Labour's tests do help to set out what such rhetoric is expected to entail. Brexiteers can no longer sneer at such a reasonable framework or use the "will of the people" tagline to silence debate and they certainly can't use those arguments in the Brussels negotiating rooms anyways!

Starmer mentions 5 core British values that are "cherished" by the Labour Party which will never be abandoned in an attempt to pass through a Tory Brexiteer dominated deal:
  • Internationalism: looking outwards not inwards
  • Co-operation and solidarity
  • Protecting the fundamentals: human rights, workplace rights, environmental protections and the rule of law
  • Fostering an economy and broader society based on the principles of faireness, equality and social justice
  • Sharing prosperity, power and opportunity across the regions and nations of the UK.
By stating such core values at the start of the speech, Starmer is reiterating the idea that Labour has and will always be an open, tolerant, liberal party rather than one that focusses on populist nationalist ideals. Being an open and tolerant party involves being inclusive of all voices within the Brexit debate, including those who voted strongly to remain. The 6 tests are designed in part to provide reassurance to remain voters that the deal will allow the UK to maintain a positive relationship with the EU as well as preserving key pieces of legislation and protections that have been derived from the EU during our membership. Starmer is also stating that the UK must continue to "honour our obligations" to the EU, whether monetarily or providing advice and support. Brexiteers cannot be allowed to destroy the goodwill that has been built up just because they throw their toys out the pray whenever the subject of money is mentioned.

What are the 6 tests that a Brexit deal would have to get through before Labour allows it to pass through Parliament?
  • Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
The UK and the EU must remain strong allies, especially in the face of a volatile President Trump in the US stoking up far-right populist nationalism and an ambitious President Putin in Russia seeking to expand his influence whilst trying to destabilise Western progressive democracies. Labour are certainly right to point out that our liberal progressive values must be defended and the UK must remain open and willing to collaborate with our EU neighbours on multinational issues to find positive workable solutions. This means that the extent of our collaboration should not be restricted to maintaining trading relationships.
A Labour Government, if they do win a General Election, should promise to try and keep research funding streams open for collaborative projects to help continue to foster an innovative culture in our Universities. Talented professionals from the EU must be allowed to come and work in the UK with access to PhD placements and fellowships. Programmes such as the Erasmus exchange scheme for University studies should also be maintained if possible.
I agree with Mr Starmer that this test had to be stated first to make it clear to Brexiteers that Remainers, including those in Labour, refuse to crash out of the EU without there being an appropriate meaningful deal in place that allows for collaborative projects to continue. As a minimum, May has to agree to transitional arrangements from the 29th March 2019 (when Article 50 expires) so that voters have a sense of greater certainty over the framework of the deal before a treaty is signed which sets out future relations.
  • Does it deliver "the exact same benefits" as we currently have as members of the Single Market  (SM) and Customs Union?
For Labour, sorting out an EU-UK trading deal has to be the Government's main trade priority. We do 44% of our exporting to EU countries whereas we currently only export 1.7% of goods to Australia. Whilst it is commendable that the Government wants to try and increase the level of exporting by establishing trading deals with Commonwealth countries, those trading deals should not be our priority during the Brexit process. Starmer has accepted that the UK will not be retaining SM status but admits that the Government are taking a "significant risk" in the process. This is why Starmer has reiterated the need for the UK to maintain "the exact same benefits" as we currently have as members of the SM. Key attributes include:
    • Continued tariff-free trade for UK businesses with the EU
    • NO additional bureaucratic burdens
    • Continued competitiveness for goods and services
    • No erosion of current workplace protections - i.e. no getting rid of the Working Time Directive.
 Starmer has stated that if this test is broken by the Government, responsibility will "lie squarely at their door". Labour will not accept responsibility if the Government attempts to make changes to employment legislation as a result of leaving the SM such as removing the Working Time Directive and will fight them all the way in the House of Commons and House of Lords, working cross-party to try to ensure this doesn't happen. Starmer points out that Davis has admitted that the consequences of leaving the EU without a deal could lead to significant tariff increases on exports such as 30-40% on dairy and meat produce, 10% export tariff on cars and a loss of passporting rights for financial services, which could hurt the City of London. Labour aren't entirely clear on whether they would support the UK paying for privileged access to the SM and Customs Union (European Commission President Juncker has argued the UK could have to pay up to £50bn for that) but Labour will not accept the UK going onto WTO rules alone. Any scrutinised deal that can be renegotiated within the timeframe is better than no deal at all and Labour are not afraid of sending Davis back to renegotiate.
  • Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
Labour have accepted that the Freedom of Movement principle will not be preserved by the Government. However, Starmer believes that a managed immigration policy that takes into account the needs of businesses and communities is the best way forward. Refugees should continue to be taken in (I'm not sure whether the Dubs Amendment would be reintroduced or a similar policy created) and the benefits of migration do need to be mentioned more openly. EU nurses and doctors have made a vitally important contribution to the NHS and agricultural seasonal workers help bring in the harvest which keeps the country properly fed. However Labour recognises that migration has put a strain on public services and housing stock, hence why Labour wants to reintroduce the Migrant Impact Fund to help areas where migration has been high, such as the Boston and Skegness constituency. Starmer argues that a migration policy needs to be created that has the consent of all people in the UK to ensure that we do not become a closed, inward looking country. Labour needs to flesh out their immigration policy further, to see whether they would introduce visas or quotas for certain sectors to bring skilled workers into the UK but I agree with Starmer that immigration control cannot be prioritised above all'll lead to a "self-defeating isolation mentality" with a restrictive policy that far-right populist nationalists dream of daily.

Labour wants to ensure that May instructs Davis to reach a deal on the right to remain for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU pretty much immediately. They should not be treated as "bargaining chips" in the agreement....i.e. the UK should not refuse to guarantee rights for EU nationals in the UK just because the EU plays hardball over tariff agreements. That's pretty much common sense and in line with Lib Dem, Green, Plaid Cymru and SNP demands.
  • Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
The EU has played a vital part in helping to improve and expand our workplace protections, something that Brexiteers were very keen to play down during and after the EU Referendum. Institutions such as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) (that the Government now wishes us to leave on democratic grounds) helped guarantee the first protections for trans people in workplaces in the UK, allowing them to be not dismissed as a result of undergoing Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS). It may now be enshrined within our own Equality Act but it's thanks to the initial ECJ ruling that that happens to be the case. Labour are right to commit to defending employment rights, including the Working Time Directive, Annual Leave, paid Maternity and Paternity Leave, Statutory Adoption Leave and equal rights for part-time workers and agency workers. I hope that Corbyn, Starmer and Labour will keep a close eye on the Conservative far right MPs to ensure that they do not use Brexit as a mandate to change our workplace and consumer protections (the Consumer Rights Directive adopted in 2011 helped to establish the Payment Surcharges Regulations 2012 and Consumer Contracts Regulations (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) which came into effect in 2014). May does not have a mandate from the people to try and repeal these.

It's not just our employment rights and consumer protections that are under threat. Brexiteers such as Michael Gove have salivated over the prospect of eroding environmental protections and health and safety regulations. Gove recently moaned about the EU Habitats Directive that helps to safeguard over 1000 endangered animal and plant species as well as over 200 habitat types across the EU ( The EUHD, alongside the Birds Directive form the cornerstone of EU conservation policy. Gove says that the Directive stalls housing development schemes but he's not prepared to admit that there is a benefit to allocating "a suitable alternative space" to offset the impact of potentially destroying protected habitats such as heathland. So it seems it's more a case of "can't be arsed to be green Tory" than a true bugbear.  Gove's preference for scrapping the Clinical Trials Directive altogether also worries me, especially in light of the failed drugs trial in the US which left 3 women blind with detached retinas and severe bleeding. The CTD allows for trials to still be conducted safely and securely, whilst streamlining bureaucracy and allowing trials to be "co-sponsored" so that NHS Trusts can work closely with academic organisations. Strange therefore that Gove wouldn't support the CTD, especially when organisations such as Cancer Research UK recognise that the "risk based, proportionate approach promises to significantly cut red tape", meaning that they can "set up and run more clinical trials, helping us to beat cancer sooner." (see

At the moment the future of EU-UK drugs research does seem up in the air; two institutions were meant to relocate to the UK (the European Medicines Agency and the pharmaceutical division of the EU Unified Patent Court) but it remains to be seen whether that will happen before the Brexit process has been concluded.

The Great Repeal Bill that is being presented to Parliament on Thursday will involve complex negotiation. Starmer quotes evidence from the House of Commons Library that shows that DEFRA will have 80% of its legislation affected by Brexit. I am glad to hear that Labour will "strongly oppose" any "sunset clauses" which allow EU-derived rights to "lapse" after 5 years. All workplace rights, consumer rights and environmental protections must remain in place unaltered and Labour must be prepared to work cross-party, including with Tory backbench rebels to ensure this happens. Corbyn has already stated that even technical changes to EU law must go through Parliament so I expect there to be intensive debate over the next few months in the House of Commons over May's powers to amend EU legislation.
  • Does it ensure there is no diminution in Britain's national security or ability to tackle cross- border crime?
Labour needs to ask tough questions of PM May when it comes to future collaboration on tackling cross-border crime and terrorism. Police forces deserve to know whether the UK will remain members of Europol and Eurojust and if that's not going to be the case, what transitional arrangements and future framework will be put in place to ensure that the UK continues to help in the battle against international crime. Another issue concerns the retention of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW), which Starmer reminds us has "helped extradite more than 50,000 criminals from the UK to the EU in the past 5 years and bring 675 wanted criminals to the UK from the EU." I believe that a future Labour Government should commit to retaining or regaining membership of Europol and Eurojust and retain the EAW; there is no point changing relationships that have worked
effectively whilst we have been members of the EU and there is no reasonably sufficient justification for changing those arrangements that has been submitted by the Brexiteer-led Government.
  • Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?
At the moment, not every voter in the UK feels that their voice is being listened to with regards to the Brexit process. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland need a firmer, more meaningful say on the negotiations. In Wales, voters want to know what will happen with regards to funding. Wales has had £4bn in structural funding from the EU and priorities for the next few years up to 2020 include tackling bottlenecks affecting A40 and A55 (using funding from the European Regional Development Fund and improving youth employment and attainment (using funding from the European Social Fund). £1.89bn in total is expected to be spent. This EU aid has been guaranteed until 2020 by the Government but no framework has been put in place regarding increases in the Welsh Budget post 2020. Labour will need to decide what kind of budget they will need to allocate to Wales should they win the next General Election and such information must be available in the election manifesto.

In Northern Ireland, it's predominately about preventing the need for routine border-controls and preventing tariffs on goods import and export wise. Families and workers want to be able to cross the NI and Irish border without fear of paying taxes to do so. Labour must state that the NI-Irish border should be seamless and non-restrictive.

In Scotland, it's about retaining the benefits of Single Market access, paired with a more liberal immigration policy. The UK is more divided than it has ever been and PM May has done very little in my opinion to help heal those fractures. The fact that Nicola Sturgeon is so concerned about the possibility of Scotland leaving the EU with no deal as part of the UK that it has prompted her and the SNP to call for a 2nd Independence Referendum should flag up concerns for us all.
Labour remains committed to the principle of political Union but believe that devolution needs to be speeded up, not just within a national framework but a regional one too. There is no real compelling case for further centralisation of power at Whitehall, so Labour must come up with a detailed devolution strategy to appeal to voters who want to see tax raising and spending powers given to local and regional councils.

Labour has now produced a comprehensive and clear framework for the party to use to scrutinise the terms of the Brexit deal. Labour candidates at a council level can now talk about the framework to their constituents to reassure them that Labour will not let the Conservatives get their deal through entirely unopposed. I'm pleased that the test has included ensuring that EU nationals right to remain in the UK is protected fully, and hope this will mean their ability to access in work benefits and the employment rights will remain the same for them as UK nationals, especially if they have been in the UK for more than 5 years. It's also good to see that Labour are prepared to defend environmental protections and hope that they will work with Tory rebel backbenchers, Green MP Caroline Lucas, the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and the SNP to help defeat the Government on any attempt to scale back those protections, including the EU Habitats Directive.

I do think Labour needs to be even clearer on specific issues such as whether they would reinstate the EAW if the Tory Government tried to get rid of it or whether the Erasmus scheme would be protected. As the Yorkshire and Humber Labour MEP Richard Corbett has mentioned in his excellent recent blog on "Brexit and Higher Education", the UK will need "some kind of associate status to access framework programme 9" which will be the main EU funding stream for research after Horizon 2020 ends. Would Corbyn's Labour commit to joining the framework programme 9 if they were elected in 2020? Such fleshing out needs to be done whilst the Brexit deal is being negotiated.

Some Remainers will argue that Labour's speech is too little, too late. The decision made by Corbyn to 3 line whip through the Brexit Bill without amendments has not gone down well and there is some suspicion as to whether Corbyn will stick firmly to the 6 tests laid out by Starmer. What would happen if only 1 or 2 of the tests were not met? Would Labour strike down the deal straight away or ask for it to amended or pass it through regardless? What happens if PM May doesn't present a comprehensive deal to Parliament? Such eventualities need to be planned for, considering that Labour wouldn't have enough votes to defeat the Government without Tory backbench rebels joining them. Perhaps Labour aren't going far enough. Should Labour do as the Lib Dems have done and promise a 2nd EU Referendum within 2 years on the terms of the deal (or on leaving the EU without a deal)? I'm still sympathetic towards such a referendum proposal in place of a 2nd Independence Referendum for Scotland. The fact is that in all reality, the Scottish Government will vote for IndyRef2 to take place at some time within the next 2 years. Even if PM May asks for it to be postponed till after April 2019, the Brexit deal may not be one that Scottish voters can accept (i.e. a Hard Brexit) so when Scotland does hold its IndyRef2, voters may still vote to leave the UK and PM May and Corbyn will have to respect the result, even if the margin of victory is under 5%. Corbyn is willing to allow the people of Scotland a 2nd referendum if they wish it to happen. It's very democratic of him to say this but it puts him at odds with many Labour MPs as well as Labour and Lib Dem Unionist Remainers and Leavers.

Labour's approach to Brexit should be framed within its vision for the future of the UK. That's why it was important for Starmer to talk about what Brexit will not achieve for UK voters. I stand by Starmer's suggestion that Brexiteers did sell voters false hope, especially in relation to extra money for our NHS. The £350m was a deliberate lie used to entice voters at the ballot box, one that I will never forgive leading Brexiteer campaigners for. Whilst the Brexit process is being negotiated in Brussels, Labour must hold the Government to account on decisions they are taking at home. This includes questioning their education vanity project funding promises when state comprehensive schools face real term cuts in per pupil funding and questioning their decision not to increase social care funding to £2bn a year as the Kings Fund have indicated is needed as a minimum. Brexit certainly won't restore public trust in politics; there were plenty of young people who were so turned off by the vicious nature of the EU Referendum debate that they may never vote again. That's sad news for our democracy where youth representation should be increasing, not reducing. I look forward to seeing more of Labour's policy platforms that will help to address accountability and transparency issues to help build public confidence. I want to see Labour openly declare that they will reduce the voting age to 16 (which they've already promised to do) and to announce new innovative policies that will help our NHS and Social Care services to expand and flourish. The Brexit process itself cannot be allowed to dominate our national political scene. It cannot be used as a smokescreen or an excuse to allow the Tories to pass through unpopular policies unopposed. This Brexit policy I hope signals a shift in communication approach by Labour to one that is clear, bold and unwavering. It'd be sad to be proved wrong when the Brexit deal reaches Parliament only to be allowed through unopposed.

Monday, 20 March 2017

A few thoughts on Hadley Freeman's Guardian Article

  • Hadley Freeman talks about there being a range of ethical issues that need to be explored when thinking about trans women being included as part of womanhood. Sports wise, it's important to recognise bodily and hormonal differences that come about pre and post transition. Testosterone levels will undoubtedly fall after a person has transitioned because of them being on hormone replacement therapy. There is an argument for separation in physical contact sports such as Rugby between pre trans women and cis women. Gender affected sports are ones where "the physical strength, stamina or physique of average persons of one gender would put them at a disadvantage to average persons of the other gender and the prohibition is necessary to secure fair competition or the safety of competitors, including the safety of transgender ones". There is a condition in the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) 2004 that already covers playing gender affected sports such as Rugby, stating that trans people do not have an "automatic right to participate in competitive sport alongside other people of the acquired gender" but when it comes to grassroots participation in non gender-affected sports, should there be a necessary separation based on gender? The International Olympics Committee have ruled that trans participants can take part in Olympic sports without going through GRS, with hormone testing being the way to determine eligibility. Trans activists welcome this but gender critical radical feminists do not. The fact is that hormone testing in sports is complicated, there are a greater variation of sex chromosomes than originally thought (including XXY, XXXY, XXXXY, XXYY and XXXYY). Such chromosomes only have an impact when combined with certain hormones. Then there is the question of where intersex people and those who have a mismatch between genital and chromosomal sex and the question of sports participation on the basis of gender and sex becomes very complicated. Hence why Freeman openly admits that she can't offer an answer to the question of sports participation in the article.
  • Freeman doesn't take note of such reports as the Scottish OutForSport Tackling Transphobia in Sport Survey (published in June 2012), which found that over 75% of respondents said  there was a problem with transphobia in sport. 80% had witnessed or experienced transphobia, with 96% (yes 96%) having witnessed or been subject to verbal abuse, 16% had witnessed or been subject to physical abuse and 7% had witnessed or been subject to sexual assault. 68% of trans respondents also said that they'd been significantly more likely to participate in sports if it was more LGBT friendly. The Survey also talked about the issue of changing rooms; trans people generally do worry about their inability to be seen as passing when in the changing room corresponding with their gender and would prefer there to be gender-neutral changing facilities in place which can be freely used by trans (and non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer people). The Transgender Enquiry, published by the Women and Equalities Committee in January 2016 has talked about the need for Government to work closely with Sport England to develop guidance on participation sports, gender neutral changing rooms to make it clearer for organisations to implement the rules on gender-affected sport appropriately and fairly. That should help reduce instances of trans people being or feeling unable to participate.
  • In terms of prisons, I believe personally that a pre-op trans women who has had a history of violence towards women and girls should be kept under close watch during transition whilst remaining in a male prison. The trans prisoner doesn't deserve to be abused for openly acknowledging their status but at the same time, it would be unpopular to move a convicted sex offender or domestic abuse and violence perpetrator to a women's prison. If it were to happen even post-transition, they may need to be kept in isolation or be watched very closely by prison guards to ensure they don't try to commit an offence whilst in the prison. Prisoners rights have to be balanced with security needs. However, if a trans women hasn't committed a sexual or violent offence against women or girls, I don't understand the logic in preventing them from being transferred to a woman's prison. There are around 80 trans people in prisons in England and Wales (as of January 2017) and there have been 5 trans women who have died in prison within the last 16 months. The Government did announce in November 2016 that they will be reviewing their policy on transgender prisoners and recently, the Prison and Probations Ombudsman published a bulletin in January 2017 which has argued for flexibility in the rules. You can read the bulletin for yourself here:  Their key recommendations include:
    •  making sure all relevant people involved in a trans prisoner's care attend Assessment, Care in Custody and Teamwork case reviews when a trans person self-harms or tries to commit suicide
    • access to the same NHS treatment that prisoners would be accessible to if not imprisoned
    • investigating all instances of transphobic bullying and harassment thoroughly with steps taken by the prison Governor to address it
    • personal prison officers being attached to trans prisoners to establish meaningful contact and sense of trust
    • reasonable adjustments to be made to allow the prisoner to live in their acquired gender (e.g., changing clothing, use different pronouns/name)
    • prisoners to be held in prison that matches their legally recognised status-i.e. if a post Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS) trans woman has legally changed her gender via a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) attained as part of adhering to the GRA, then according to the law she should be placed in a women's prison, not a men's one.  
  • Biologically speaking, there is no doubt that there is  a key difference between cis women and trans women in that cis women are born with ovaries and have to go through the menstruation cycle. Trans activists should be accepting of this difference and understand that they'll never have to go through period pain (having to make sure they have sanitary supplies in place) or through the menopause. There's no risk of pregnancy either. At the same time it must be recognised that Trans women can't help being born with the wrong sexual organs. It's not their fault they had testes instead of ovaries and a penis instead of a vagina. Mutual understanding is important and that includes being able to listen to a variety of different experiences and understanding that privilege is a multilayered concept that isn't just related to gender identity or sex. That's what being an intersectional feminist is all about!
  • If we're all going to start talking about the "transgender movement", then journalists and presenters need to give a voice to trans men as well as trans women. Trans men rarely get a mainstream media platform in which to discuss their feelings and shed light on their experiences pre and post transition. There are issues that pertain specifically to them; for example, the embarrassment they may face when having to get sanitary products from the shop whilst still menstruating in pre-transition or the extra expense of having to get binders to hide their breasts and give their bodies a "more masculine look". Trans women commentators can't offer those specific perspectives so why not get people like Fox Fisher to write an article/comment in papers such as The Guardian/do a BBC One prime-time documentary to put his side of the story.
  • Finally, being confident about one's own gender identity (or lack of it) isn't meant to erase another's gender identity (or lack of it). Non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer identities are as valid as trans or cis ones and journalists and presenters must be prepared to listen to their experiences rather than immediately stereotype or berate them as being "mentally ill". The more non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer voices are heard, the better understood the concept of gender identity will be. There are plenty of non-binary, gender-fluid and genderqueer people willing to speak to journalists and presenters openly on this topic including the wonderful Maria Munir.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

My Intersectional Feminist response to Jenni Murray on Trans Women.

This year seems to be the year of "being controversial" with a desire for free speech to be used to the max as if it's going out of fashion like the gold glitter jelly platform sandal that was all the rage with me in summer 2015  that now only sadly gets an airing once in a blue moon. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, as living in a Western democracy with freedom of expression enshrined in our Human Rights legislation (in the UK it's thanks to Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998) means we should not be afraid of being as authentic in our speech as we are with fashion or music. Freedom of expression is perfectly acceptable to me as long as it falls within the confines of the law. When I talk about the law, I'm referring in part to the Equality Act 2010, which is designed to protect people from being openly discriminated against, whether in the workplace or accessing a public service such as visiting the local GP on the basis of as an aspect of their identity. The Equality Act covers gender as a protected characteristic but also covers those going through transition under the separate protected characteristic of "gender reassignment surgery (GRS)." Now I believe the protected characteristic should be changed to "gender identity" so that it explicitly covers non-binary, gender-fluid and queer individuals as well as those perceived to be, thinking of, or having gone through GRS. Isn't it weird that in super vitriolic debates surrounding gender identity that trans people's identities are recognised or questioned  but non-binary, gender-fluid and queer people's identities are not? More than a slight erasure of their identity and voice which as a self-confessed intersectional feminist I'm not all that happy about!

Notwithstanding having their status protected by law, trans people's identities have been questioned with people using the same old stereotypes to reject the validity of trans women as being seen as real women : "Oh look at that trans women, she raped a woman and therefore must be representative of all other trans women...they're all aggressively assertive so keep them away from us"...that kind of fearmongering I will not sanction or engage in as someone who was actually orally raped. Do you think that I think that the one man that raped me whilst I was walking home on my own should make me fearful of every man in the world? No. It makes me weary of walking home alone but I don't blame the whole of mankind for that one incident. So why do some gender critical rad feminists use a handful of case studies where a trans person has broken the law to categorically state that trans women (and non-binary people) cannot use women's bathrooms (what about trans men choosing to use male bathrooms btw...#SideEye)? Why whip up prejudice and slander gender affirming psychologists and sexologists by suggesting that trans activists want teenagers to go through GRS when they know full well that they can't undergo GRS until they reach the age of consent which is 16 in the UK? It's all unnecessary profiling which as an intersectional feminist I have to call out.

Against this background of trans profiling, I wasn't surprised when  Dame Jenni Murray came out with her Sunday Times article talking about how trans women cannot be "real women" because she believes that those who self-define as real women have no real understanding of being in a less privileged position or haven't fully understood the background of sexual politics informed by feminist thought. The article certainly appears well researched but I do find it to be a bit biased. For starters, Murray constantly refers to all trans people in the article as "transsexual" a term that is now extremely outdated. The preferred term is transgender and I'm sorry if I'm being PC over the use of terminology but even the BBC doesn't use transsexual as their standard term when referring  to trans people in their HR or Equality and Diversity policies. I recognise that some trans women are more than happy to be referred to as "transsexual" but others are not. Perhaps Murray specifically uses the term "transsexual" because she only talks about trans women who have actually undergone GRS in her article. That's limiting in itself as some trans women may not be able to have GRS because they have medical conditions that preclude them from having surgery. Are non GRS trans women "lesser women" because of not being able to physically change their body ? You be the judge.

I'm glad that Murray talked about it being alright for men to express their "femininity" so they can be crossdressers and transvestites. I accept their right to express themselves in their own way. Grayson Perry is an amazing artist and he is perfectly happy with his body being the way it is but trans people on the whole cannot see beyond their body and feel they were born as the wrong sex. I have worn a vest since I was 12 because I cannot bear to look at my body when I can possibly help it, even though I am confident about my fashion sense and wear what I like. The fact that that Murray had to mention transvestites and crossdressers  at the start of her article naturally provokes discussion; for example, is Murray inferring that trans women should not go ahead with transition because they can help feminists by "staying as they are" to challenge "the unpleasant rules required of conventional masculinity?" Or was she simply trying to come across as a compassionate person by showing she allows freedom of gender expression? I'm not sure.

That being said, I applaud Murray's attempt to discuss the dangers of extreme discourse. She points out that the language of proudly self-proclaiming radical feminists such as Germaine Greer has been "unacceptably crude" whilst also calling out trans activists who used misogynistic tropes to ridicule anti Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Muslim Somali activist Nimko Ali (someone I mentioned on my blogpost as a great role model for critiquing Alt-Right Islamophobic comments that suggest Muslims do not care about topics such as FGM). Yes there are issues surrounding the proliferation of white middle class women's voices in the feminist movement but to declare that Nimko is perpetuating "white feminism" without fully understanding Ali's own experiences? There's no point declaring yourself to be an intersectional feminist if you're not prepared to allow fellow feminists a platform provided they do not attempt to use any privilege they have gained to silence your voice or deny you your platform. Mutual respect has to be a given but make sure that your rhetoric doesn't fall foul of the Equality Act and comes across as discriminatory.

Such nuanced discussion is one reason why Murray has been someone I've listened to in the past. I've read her books (A History of Britain in 21 women was very interesting)and listened to her on BBCR4 Woman's Hour. She has a similar educational background to me and have awareness of both French and Drama (and possibly French Drama). I respect Murray's right to say that trans women should not call themselves real women but as you have probably gathered I do fundamentally disagree with her on this premise. I think that may because I am gender-affirming and respect the right of people to self-define without believing their self-definition erodes my or any other person's sense of gender identity. I respect the right for people to be non-binary, gender-fluid and believe they should enjoy equal protection under the law because as long as they are living within the confines of the law, does it really intrinsically matter what their gender marker actually is? Murray herself contends that trans women should be proud of their identities so surely she doesn't believe her own identity as a woman is being eroded away just because a minority of people were born feeling they were born with the wrong sexual organs and want to change them to align with their gender identity?

Exploring the article further: 

How do you define what's "real" in terms of womanhood?

The concept of "reality" has always been incredibly hard to define in an absolute way, none more so than grappling with the nature of personal identity. Tara Hewitt, a trans feminist and co-founder of the UK Trans Equality Legal Initiative (TELI)  believes that the premise of Murray's article, that there is a way of defining "real womanhood" that excludes women who have transitioned is based on a subjective definition of "reality" that brings gender identity down to that of sex. There is heated argument raging between gender affirming and gender critical radical feminists over what constitutes “authenticity of self”(another name for personal identity). In terms of gender identity, is it innate (are we born with predetermined characteristics) or is gender identity purely a construct that is solely influenced by societal factors? When a trans man decides to have GRS, for example, is he doing so to try and conform to a socialised ideal of what a man should look like or is he doing so because he feels innately that he is a man and has his own idea of masculine appearance that may not necessarily adhere to gender stereotypes? Does a trans man only "learn" masculinity from the people he associates with, the books and magazines he reads, the films and TV shows he watches or does he feel he is meant to be a man irrespective of these influences? How does that differ when we talk about trans women or non-binary/gender-fluid people?

Personally speaking, I've been conflicted and have come to the conclusion that "authenticity of self" is a very complicated mix of innate feelings that are shaped by socialisation. The uneasy feeling that a trans person is "born in the wrong body/gender" is most definitely there but it would be difficult not to argue that there are social factors that will influence how they want to "perform" masculinity or femininity or anyninty...after all we all have been socialised whether we identify as trans or cis or anything else gender identity wise. Feminists have traditionally contended that a patriarchal society has taught men from an early age that wearing dresses is inappropriate because crossdressing has been traditionally associated with not being heterosexual and would stop men from getting a partner to procreate with. However, there are happily married fathers who do wear dresses or "typically female" garments, even if they only do so in the bedroom. As an intersectional feminist I recognise the difference between crossdressing husbands and trans women. Cross-dressing husbands are mostly happy with their bodies as a whole (although they may want to lose weight or get a nose job to improve their appearance) whereas trans women are unhappy with certain aspects of their bodies (such as the penis and testes) because they genuinely feel they were born as the wrong sex. It may seem "illogical" to some that trans people feel this way but nonetheless they do and that's why they have the option under law to undergo GRS after they have completed the necessary steps as set out by current guidelines (such as living in their acquired/real gender role for 2 years prior to GRS).

Anyways, Murray believes that the only thing that is "innate" about gender are the sexual organs..i.e. gonads, testicles, ovaries etc. She references Simone De Beauvoir's famous quote from The Second Sex: "one is not born, but rather becomes a woman." As an existentialist, De Beauvoir believed that existence precedes essence. Womanhood, beyond the sexual organs consists of a series of socially constructed roles that have been determined by men; e.g. when a husband tells his wife that her place is "washing up at the kitchen sink", it plays into a socially constructed idea that women should be subservient to the male by washing up after him. Trans women can never understand the expectations placed on them by society from the moment of their birth because they have never been expected to perform such subservient roles until they transition. However, are women in all households still expected to clean/wash-up? No; there are households such as the one that I grew up in which has adopted equal responsibility for household chores. I always wash up and vacuum when asked to do so. That indicates some level of progress in the fight against traditional gender roles.

Are trans women necessarily more privileged than cis women?

Is every trans woman "socialised into the expectation of the masculine gender"...i.e. does every trans woman naturally expect to be able to progress at work in the same way as their male colleagues do because it's recognised by employers that they won't need to have access to paid maternity leave? Remember that employees may need to allow time off for Gender Reassignment Surgery for trans women and some employers may try and get trans employees to leave their position if their recovery time isn't going to be covered through them taking their annual leave even though such discrimination is against the Equality Act. Does every trans woman expect to avoid being catcalled in the street because those men realise they aren't real women? Non-binary people get catcalled, harassed in the streets for wearing non-gender conforming clothing or because they happen to look a certain way which plays into or against a stereotype of "naturally beautiful".  Trans people do get catcalled too, even when we're wearing what is socially defined "gender normal" or even "gender neutral" clothing. There have been times when I've walked down the street and been called a "faggot", a "tart", a "whore", a "bitch", "butch", "c**t" and I've even been spat at whilst attending a dinner party with my parents. Do all these experiences happen because people are seeing me as female? No. The majority of insults and slurs may be related to everyday sexist socialised behaviours but not every insult or slur is based on my gender identity. I've had men touch my bum when I was dressed in just jeans and a long tee for no other reason than because they thought they had the right to touch me. I've had lesbian and gay friends that have been touched up inappropriately in nightclubs too. Sexual harassment shouldn't happen on our streets or in our nightclubs whatever the reason the perpetrator gives for doing it happens to be. And yes, I've seen women groping my female and gay male friends too for no other reason than "they wanted to" when they should have known they should have respected personal space boundaries. The key to combating sexual harassment and misogyny on the streets is to educate everyone to respect differences, regardless of gender. Yes I realise that sexual harassment disproportionately affects women but I believe it's wrong full stop. Same with sexual assault, same with domestic abuse and domestic violence (DVA) and the same with rape. Anyone can be a survivor of rape and oral rape (when a guy penetrates your mouth without consent) can be as rough and emotionally distressing as anal or vaginal rape, even if you can't get pregnant. Trans activists like myself are members of organisations that aim to reduce instances of DVA, rape and sexual assault in the UK and around the world. I've written about being part of GenderFreeDV which aims to improve DVA service access for all victims, regardless of gender identity. We recognise women are disproportionately survivors of DVA but we believe that male survivors, trans survivors and non-binary/gender-fluid survivors deserve to express their views RE the current level of service provision and legislation so as to ensure parity in how survivors are looked after in the UK. Being an intersectional feminist means understanding that we have to challenge orthodox thinking to make life better for everyone. This means being tough on women who perpetrate DVA towards male, female, trans and non-binary survivors and empathising with men who have been sexually assaulted by women. Nobody should be proud of a teacher who uses her position to lure a young boy into a sexual relationship. So you see, socialisation can work in a multitude of ways. Yes, hormones and surgery alone do not make a person a woman but sometimes our own perceptions can colour our judgement. If a trans woman calls herself a "real woman", are cis women denying their womanhood based on biological considerations or because they weren't "brought up to be a woman" as a result of their sex. Can trans women really help that? As I mentioned regularly in my blogposts on Trans issues, the key really is to show compassion and sympathy towards trans people and not treat them as if they do not know their own mind. If you're confident in your own identity that shouldn't be a problem.

Murray asserts that trans women can never be real women because they don't seem to fully understand the importance of sexual politics-i.e. the fight for parity of representation, pay and the fight against sexualisation of women's bodies, fashion stereotyping and reducing instances of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence and domestic abuse against women and girls. For me, Murray is explicitly implying that all trans women have never truly faced oppression or been underprivileged by virtue of their gender (aka sex) alone. As an intersectional feminist I see privilege as existing on many levels. It's not just about the privilege we have as a result of our gender/sex or even our gender identification/expression but the privilege or lack of privilege afforded to us as a result of our sexuality/sexual orientation, class, age, race, nationality, disability, religious expression/belief and even political ideology. See you can be privileged/oppressed in many different ways. White upper class men may appear to be the least oppressed and most privileged at first glance but does a student who has Down's syndrome who comes from an upper class home have as much privilege as an able bodied upper class man like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP for North East Somerset who has far more accessibility to a platform to express and defend himself and his nationalistic views than a disabled student.  Does a person with Down's syndrome from a upper class household have more privilege than a working class person with Down's? No doubt, especially if their family can pay for specialist help, private tutors etc.

Everyone has a different experience of life that will make them more or less privileged than someone else; my experience as a white trans/non-binary dyspraxic working class intersectional feminist will inevitably be different from a trans middle class egalitarian and both of us are far more privileged than a trans person of colour who lives in a Muslim majority country like Pakistan where activists have only just managed to achieve basic rights and have successfully managed to establish a mosque where trans people can openly pray without fear of persecution. Understanding the complexity behind the concept of privilege is vital in a discussion of rights such as whether trans women should consider themselves real women or rather whether feminists/radical feminists feel that they are being forced to accept trans women are women on the basis that it could be classed as direct discrimination under the Equality Act if they openly express this view when the trans person is in their workplace.

Are trans women always re-enforcing gender stereotypes through fashion choices?

One argument that is made against trans activists arguing that "trans women are women" is that trans activists are actively attempting to reinforce patriarchally constructed gender stereotypes. There are plenty of people who hold conservative views about gender identity and coming out as trans doesn't mean you yourself automatically want to reinforce antiquated stereotypes; you wouldn't have trans people identifying as non-binary a few years after their transition if that was the case. This doesn't mean that there aren't trans women who hold conservative views about gender roles because our political, social and/or religious views may not alter as a result of transitioning. That's why I may understand some of Murray's frustrations with regards to her meeting with Rev Carol Stone (the first openly transgender Church of England priest) in December 2000. Murray assumed that Rev Stone wouldn't have been so preoccupied with picking out a new dress to meet parishioners if she'd been a cis woman (a woman who's always been a woman because she was born with ovaries & breasts etc) priest getting ready to meet parishioners for the first time. But Murray is making an assumption here; she contends that Rev Stone was deliberately choosing a dress so as to reinforce the fact she had transitioned to her parishioners so they no longer associated Rev Stone with what she looked like pre GRS. What's to say that Rev Stone was only nervous about making a good impression (many of us are) or maybe she just preferred wearing a dress that day to wearing a blouse and trousers? I can't berate someone as "deliberately playing into gendered stereotypes" because they show a different interest in fashion to me. I usually spend half an hour deciding what to wear and I've known friends (male, female, trans and non-binary) who have spent 3 hours or more choosing outfits and getting ready to go out to the nightclub, especially if it's a high end one like Ministry of Sound. Should I be angry at myself and all my friends for being so indecisive? As an intersectional feminist I do believe that we need to combat stereotyping fashion wise; that we shouldn't automatically associate wearing an item of clothing with a particular sex or gender identity but we have to be careful about erasing the element of personal choice from the fashion equation. I've never cared whether what I was wearing made me be seen as a man or woman or androgynous or non-binary. My sense of identity goes beyond fashion as it does for other trans and non-binary activists. That doesn't mean I shouldn't be at all interested in vintage fashion or jewellery to stop myself falling into a "gendered trap"! Then again, maybe I'm just a socialised materialist at heart?

Notwithstanding the argument over fashion symbolism, it was rather sad to see that Rev Stone couldn't offer an answer to what strikes me as a pertinent question: "what did she owe to the women who had fought for the right to be ordained as priests in the Church of England?"
The Church of England to me is institutionally patriarchal. In fact I'd go as far as to say that Christianity as practiced by most denominations today is patriarchally centered (and I say that as devout Christian, albeit a Liberal Lutheran one). Why can't God be known as "She" or "They" rather than instinctively be a God that uses a male pronoun? We don't know what God looks like, nor whether they conform to our notions of sex and gender identity. Conservative Christians continue to use the Bible to berate women making a free choice as to whether they need to have an abortion or not, without understanding how emotionally distressing an abortion can be (it's telling that the Bible has no actual references to abortion practices or the act of birth but that might be because men wrote the Scripture down). Yet Jesus was compassionate to everyone regardless of their sex or gender identity. I spent my years at the University of York exploring the relationship between Christianity and intersectional feminism so yes, as an trans intersectional feminist I do understand and appreciate the fight that Anglican women have had to become ordained priests. I know that the General Synod of 1992 passed a vote to allow women priests to be ordained but the Synod of 1993 allowed parishes not to accept women priests (a sexist move). Despite that, the first 32 women priests were ordained on the 12th March 1994 and by 2004, 1/5 of priests in the Church of England were women. Murray raises the fact that discrimination against female priests had not been diluted after the Synod rulings as the case of Rev Vivienne Faull finding it difficult to reach out to her flock facing disrespect from canons demonstrates. The fight against discrimination in the Church of England is ongoing and never ending; something that Christian trans women experience along with cis women. The existence of a trans woman priest (who's now no longer with us) does not challenge the progress that had been made, even if she herself needed to show more awareness of her colleagues. It'd be a mark of progress to see more trans male and non-binary priests ordained openly and intersectional feminist Christians like me wouldn't mind seeing an end to the rule that requires LGB priests to be celibate and allow same sex marriages to be conducted in Anglican churches. That's why I'm supporting the Changing Attitudes campaign which aims for equality in "selection, training, ordination and appointment" of LGBT clergy. I don't support trans women clergy in spite of cis women; I support them because the overall struggle for recognition and to change attitudes resonated with me and has helped to inspire my liberal values. Feminist approaches to religion are sometimes taught on the RE curriculum but most students have to take A-Level Religious Studies to gain awareness of such views. No wonder so many people, including some trans activists, do not understand the full picture. Yes this is an argument for them to perhaps go away and research it for themselves but signposting and initiating discussion is vital to raising awareness.

Anyways, back to the overarching structure of "trans people don't understand privilege" argument offered by Murray. Another conversation with a real trans woman  Murray cites is one she had with India Willoughby on R4 Woman's Hour where Ms Willoughby made "unacceptable" comments re a dress code being brought in by the Dorchester hotel.  I know that companies are perfectly able to enforce dress codes if there is a health and safety need; if you're working as a hotel cleaner it's probably not a good idea to wear heeled shoes because of the potential of tripping over hazards...e.g. electrical cables. The Dorchester hotel's requirements do not fall under this category. Does every woman really have to make sure they wear make-up and have a manicure before they come to work? I don't wear make-up during the day and have no intention of starting, so I wouldn't be able to work at the Dorchester even though I may be wearing a smart blouse and trousers. Ms Willoughby stating that hairy legs on a woman was "dirty" but on a man "wasn't dirty" wasn't very appropriate either. She of all people must know that pre-op trans women who are yet to take hormones may not shave their legs and even if they did, shaving your legs alone doesn't make you any more of a "real woman". Some feminists choose not to shave their legs or armpits in protest against such a stereotypical view. Yet in her response to Murray's article, Willoughby categorically stated that the rule that had been discussed "applied to men and women" and that she had been portrayed as someone who believed that "all women should have perfectly shaved legs at all times" which was "fake news". She then went on to say that Murray holds  transphobic views. The problem is that Willoughby didn't clarify whether the dress code itself should be challenged and reviewed, even in terms of its language whereas I think it should have been. Gendered dress codes can be openly criticised by trans activists if they choose to enter the debate.

Finally, what about trans men or non-binary people in this fashion debate? Are men angry that trans men are adhering to "gendered stereotypes" dress wise or do they just let them wear what they want and accept fashion is a personal choice? I've not seen many tweets myself online that talk about trans men being berated for not being men because of their fashion choices but I accept that may because I'm not "walking in the shoes" of trans men. The same would hold with non-binary and gender-fluid activists who dress however they want to dress in their personal space and try to challenge stereotypes around fashion in public spaces. I'd be interested to hear about their experiences and will aim to read more trans male and non-binary/gender-fluid blogs in the future to help me understand the unique challenges they may face in our society.

A quick aside: Trans women are not trying to erase sexuality because gender identity and sexuality are separate parts of our personal identity:
Gender identity and sexuality are separate parts of our existence. It's foolish in my view to suggest that trans women being recognised as real women could lead to a necessary erosion of lesbianism or when trans men are recognised as men that would erode homosexuality. Such sweeping statements would mean accepting that most sexual orientations are permanently fixed and that trans people are somehow deliberately trying to fool/trick people into loving them by playing into or against stereotypes of sexuality. Not every trans woman is an oppressed camp gay man and not every trans man is a lesbian trying to escape his sexual orientation. You have the choice who you fall in love with in a liberal society and to think that your sexuality could be erased just because someone you fancy was born differently to you....Love is Love.
If a lesbian or bisexual woman decided to date/have sex with a woman who happened to have been born differently does it really mean she's now engaging in a heterosexual relationship, even if the trans woman in question had undergone full Gender Reassignment Surgery (GRS)? As an intersectional feminist, I respect choice. That means choice in who you fall in love with. Look beyond stereotypes and display mutual respect and compassion. Besides a trans woman can be asexual, pansexual or her sexuality may have changed from before. C'est la vie.

Differing Trans Views:

I do respect Murray's decision to reflect usually silent voices of people who self-define transsexual or "non-real woman" or have de-transitioned through choice even if I believe her representation of trans activists in the article has been negative. It was interesting to hear the story of Charles Kane, a detransitioner whose gender identity had changed dramatically over the years. Charles felt like "he had a male brain" but couldn't "fit in" socially, which is why he went through GRS. However, he now regrets his decision and has reverted to seeing himself as male and has declared that "he went through GRS "too soon". Intersectional feminists understand the need to respect individual choice without prejudice; I don't feel I have a 100% male or female brain but I understand if Kane does see his brain as gendered.  Murray seems to dismiss evidence of separation between brain and biology as "pseudoscience" whereas I think a lot more studies do need to be carried out before one automatically dismisses the idea that there are any innate gender/sex characteristics that separate from sexual organs and features like enlarged Adam's Apples and breasts. It's vital to be open minded.

Jenny Roberts, a self-defining "non real" trans woman seems to have had a very different upbringing from myself. Ms Roberts believes that trans women can never be real women because they are socialised to be assertive and aggressive. My parents never brought me up to be accepting of aggressiveness and it was my Mum, a Norwegian-Swedish intersectional feminist (who was adopted by an English teacher who broke free from the constraints of middle class life when she was a teenager to follow her vocation as a missionary in South Africa in the late 1940s) who taught me about being assertive and standing up for liberal values and beliefs. My Mum taught me to be respectful of other peoples' voices, especially those of other women but she never saw assertiveness as being an inherently masculine trait. Ms Roberts goes on to talk about body differences being inherently "man" or woman" such as height or shape and  her voice being overwhelmingly recognised as male; unlike Ms Roberts, I am short and curvy and I get called Miss on the phone and have been called Miss or Ms on the phone since I was 16 years old when I first started answering calls from my bank. Yet body height, shape, voice alone doesn't determine your gender identity;  cis women can be tall and have a deep enough voice to be called "Sir" on the phone but that doesn't make them any less of a woman. Whilst I accept Roberts' decision to tell her story as a self-proclaimed radical feminist living with her civil partner and running a feminist bookshop in York, I can disagree with her assertion that other trans women can't call themselves real women based on her own socialised experience. I've never married, have no desire to have children and never had anything other than oral sex (which has been very rare since my rape experience) but Roberts had a family with an ex wife and now has a partner. So there's little commonality of experience between me and Ms Roberts other than that we felt we had to transition.

Miranda Yardley's inclusion in the article has certainly split trans activists as her views have done in the past. It seemed to me as if Yardley had been brought in as a "voice of authority"- a specialist on being a trans woman rather than as just an independent trans voice; that's probably because Yardley self-defines as a "transsexual", the same term Murray uses in her article. Murray even goes as far as to say at the end of the article that Yardley is a woman after her own heart because she's perfectly happy to exclude trans women from having access to women's only spaces even after they've undergone GRS. My intersectional feminist response is this: I understand that in certain circumstances it may not be appropriate for a pre-op trans person or non-binary person to be in a cis woman's space; for example, a cis female survivor of DVA may feel uncomfortable being around a pre-op trans woman because of her own experiences of DVA and I'd be fine with there being separate accommodation for pre-op trans women provided on that basis. The pre-op trans DVA survivor may even understand that point of view, provided they have their own access to decent counselling to help them cope with their own DVA experience. But then...what happens if the perpetrator had been female? How do you help a female survivor of DVA if she's uncomfortable being around other women in a survivor shelter? Such situations are rare. To justify banning trans women survivors from women's shelters on the basis of their past history just doesn't stack up to rationale because once again, radical feminists may be fuelling the stereotypes of masculinity and femininity whilst seeking to refute them at the same time.

The DVA survivor shelter situation is rare but what about banning trans women from feminist meetings or women's only societies? Should non-binary/gender-fluid people be banned for that matter? Intersectional feminists believe we need everyone on board to help enact the real social change needed to combat gender inequality and break down gendered stereotypes. Ms Yardley states in the article that she wants to be "empathetic" and "compassionate" to trans women but even generally, this empathy is given through gender stereotyping. She'll happily exclude trans girls (or gender affirming boys) and trans women from joining the Girl Guides and I wouldn't think it much of a stretch to posit that she thinks trans boys and men shouldn't join the Scouts. I guess non-binary kids and adults can't join either unless they give in to membership based purely on their sex. As I said earlier, I understand potential worries about potential sexual harassment but I refuse to automatically assume that every boy affirming to be a girl is a risk to girls in general or that every girl affirming to be a boy is at risk of being sexually assaulted by joining the Scouts. Instead, I embrace a change in attitudes that policies such as sex and relationships education (SRE) will bring to UK society, something those on the right and on the far left of the feminism debate don't advocate for enough. Yes I genuinely SRE is going to help reduce instances of rape and sexual assault by teaching consent law to boys, girls and non-binary students alike. I genuinely believe that LGBT+ SRE will challenge stereotypes and allow students to be be as proud of their identity as Murray indicated at the start of the article that she wanted them to be.

What's missing from Dame Murray's critique?

In her quest to proffer an opinion on the "trans identity" debate, Murray does play into some stereotypical assumptions of trans women. This was evidenced in her handling of issues that matter to trans activists and intersectional feminists alike. Murray mentions the PACE Mental Health survey from 2014 but perhaps only as a way to make trans activists look foolish. The fact is that there are pre-op trans people in the UK who are contemplating suicide and have contemplated suicide because they feel they are unable to carry on living their lives the way they are doing. I want every 1 of the 27 young people identified in the PACE survey to not contemplate committing suicide because they would feel they are being listened to. I want them to be able to talk through their feelings and understanding they have valid options they can consider (which doesn't just include GRS) and I am glad that charities such as Mermaids and Stonewall exist to allow trans and non-binary/gender-fluid young people to do this despite the barrage of criticism they face on a weekly basis.

Trans women face oppression and discrimination yet from Murray's article, you'd be forgiven for thinking that all trans women are too privileged to face discrimination. Perhaps she should have taken the time to read the stats from the Trans Mental Health Study (2012) that found that 38% of trans respondents had experienced physical intimidation or that 81% had experienced silent harassment (being whispered/stared at). Perhaps Murray should know that according to the Engendered Penalties Report (2007) 42% of trans people aren't living in their preferred gender role because they fear it might threaten their employment status and over 10% of trans people were verbally abused and 6% physically assaulted at work. Trans women are facing oppression in the workplace and out on the streets just because they have the gall to express themselves openly. It's wrong and HR professionals, the police, politicians and even media presenters all have a responsibility to stand up to those who use their denial of womanhood as grounds for discrimination.

Trans women can be targeted by cis men who do not believe they are women and they murder them for this reason. Trans women are being murdered in the US just because they have the bravery to express their true selves in the open and most are trans women of colour (see the Human Rights Commission record here: Where are their voices in the debate? Just because we're lucky enough in the UK not to see trans women murdered on a regular basis doesn't mean that trans activists here don't care about violence perpetrated against trans women around the world.

Intersectional feminists recognise that trans women can be potential targets of violence perpetrated by women as well as by men. Trans men and non-binary/gender-fluid people can be targets and perpetrators too. All violence should be abhorred and every effort made to prevent men, women, trans and non-binary/gender-fluid people from resorting to violent actions.  Did you know a trans man was murdered last year here in the UK? His name was William Lound and he was a 30 year old mature student at the University of Salford. On the 8th February, a man murdered William at his campus because he identified as gay and he just happened to be trans with it. His Mum, Mo, was devastated. She didn't care that William had transitioned; she was proud of him and believed that "he should have been free to express himself and live his life how he chose." She was her son, not her daughter. William was a proud trans man who saw him as a real gay man. William's story touched me. It should touch anyone who has a heart. People can say William was a trans man only or a woman to the cows come home but I shall always contend that he believed he was a gay man, a real gay man who didn't deserve to be murdered just when he felt comfortable to be himself.

Yet the only reference to trans men in the whole of Murray's article was through the prism of gendered language, when she mentioned recently issued guidelines from the British Medical Association's that recommended that pregnant patients should be referred to as "people" rather than mothers so as to  not "offend" trans men.  I really don't see any issue with this; a GP should call the patient whatever they wish to be called but surely if you're going to mention anything related to trans male experience in the article you'd mention William Lound? . At least I'd hope that William would be worthy of mention. See our privilege can really blind us in some ways, even when we are usually able to recognise it.


I cannot agree with Dame Murray that trans women are not real women. I do so from an intersectional feminist viewpoint. Yes I accept that biologically (sex wise), cis women share the commonality of going through the menstruation cycle and it's true that trans women do not undergo the menstruation cycle and do not have to budget for the tampons and pads that are needed whilst other women are going through the cycle. Some feminists have argued that because trans women who have national platforms have never openly advocated against the tampon tax or never seem to want to fundraise to get sanitary supplies out to women who need them in developing countries, they haven't earned the right to call themselves "real women". Now I used my blog to talk about the need to scrap the tampon tax last year when I talked about trans men who are in pre-transition stage who still use sanitary products. Should all trans activists have mentioned the fight against the tampon tax or FGM? I say yes but that's because I'm an intersectional feminist who realises that I have to try and highlight as many different facets of societal issues as I can whilst trying not to dominate the narrative. You see I know my position as a white working class trans person is more privileged than a BAME trans person who comes from the same working class background. I want to see more BAME trans writers and activists being given a platform to discuss their experiences and to hopefully help to enact social changes that help to improve the position of all trans people who happen to be in the UK, whether they happen to be straight, gay, bi, pansexual, asexual etc. or whether they happen to be a British citizen or not. It's important that the media environment is as reflective of modern British society and I'm afraid at the moment, it's far from it.

As an intersectional feminist, I understand the complex nature of "privilege" and that every trans woman has a different experience of how they "perform" their gender because everyone "performs" gender differently. Some believe that gender is as innate as sex and others believe that gender is a social construct. I don't think the answer really is either/or. The scientific evidence is not yet conclusive for that level of certainty and I'll gender identity as a mixture of innate feelings that are then socialised until I get proven definitively wrong that is!

I hope that assumptions about trans women will continue to be challenged openly not just by trans activists and equality organisations like Stonewall but by feminists too. Being trans and seeing yourself as a woman isn't going to erode the essence of womanhood or reduce the importance of progress that has been made by women generally. Intersectional feminists like myself want to work with everyone we can to help society to progress and our focus should be on projects like SRE, fighting FGM and challenging gender stereotypes perpetuated by society such as the idea that dresses are only for women to wear in public. Yes there are trans women who will remain conservative in their views on gender. But there are others, like me, Tara Hewitt, Paris Lees and Shon Faye who do want to challenge gender stereotypes and socialisation whilst accepting that trans women are women. A trans person can say "let people wear what they want" without reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Going back to Simone De Beauvoir whose work I looked at as part of my studies at York (I did an English essay which looked at Iris Murdoch's critique of gender and sex as demonstrated in novels such as The Bell, A Severed Head and The Italian Girl ) you realise that De Beauvoir didn't approve of oppression full stop: "All oppression creates a state of war" De Beauvoir proclaimed. That's certainly true in terms of rhetoric, stereotypes and policies shaped around gender. This blogpost does not contend that Murray is a transphobe. She's not calling for violence towards trans women (or trans people in general) or for an end to GRS on the NHS. Murray's not wanting to shut down trans activists or ask them to "go back into the closet".  However, I still think it's better to recognise that trans people have the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity (or gender reassignment surgery as it current stands) in the same way as there is no right to discriminate on the basis of gender. This is enshrined in our Equality Act of 2010. The best way to go forward is to acknowledge that the debate on gender identity is not a "zero sum game".

So let's take an intersectional approach to gender identity and see it in context whilst engaging with feminist theorists and finding out about the history of social politics. Remember that we have more in common and try and encourage more trans women to get involved in the intersectional feminist movement than to try and exclude them altogether. As De Beauvoir also wrote: "One's life has value so long as one attributes value to the lives of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation and compassion."