Theresa May has "staked her reputation" on passing legislation that would tackle violence against women, and rowing back on her promises in the face of Brexit pressure would make her look "weak", an MP working to pass laws addressing the issue has said.
"The fact that the prime minister has said that there will be movement forward on [domestic violence] legislation means it will be very difficult for her to go back on that," SNP MP Eilidh Whiteford told BuzzFeed News. "It would look very weak if she can’t push that through."
May's recently announced domestic violence bill would increase prosecutions, improve the treatment of victims, and provide £20 million worth of funding to support domestic violence services, as allocated in the most recent Budget.
If passed, the bill will be instrumental in helping the government meet standards laid out by the Istanbul Convention, a legal framework aimed at tackling gender-based violence. Whiteford is the author of a separate bill to ratify the convention.
On Monday, however, ahead of the official announcement that Article 50 will be triggered next week, a report by the Institute for Government said the mammoth task of Brexit could mean there is little time for much other parliamentary business.
"Clearly a lot of the legislative agenda is going to be dominated by Brexit over the next few years, but you can’t take your foot off the pedal on the day job, there are other important things that will need to be done," Whiteford continued.
She said that as prime minister, May now had the opportunity to "shift
the logjams" across government departments that have previously prevented the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the passing of legislation like the domestic violence bill that would help fulfil it.
But Whiteford remained positive, saying the previous government's commitment to passing laws relating to human trafficking, modern slavery, and female genital mutilation was indicative that May would come good on her domestic violence promises, even in the face of Brexit.
Rachel Bunce, co-director of the IC Change campaign, which has worked alongside Whiteford to get the Istanbul Convention ratification bill through parliament, told BuzzFeed News it was vital that ending violence against women was not forgotten in the rush to make Brexit work.
"With two women being murdered in England and Wales every week, we cannot afford for violence against women to fall off the agenda," Bunce said.
"We hope that the timing of the announcement of the domestic violence law means that the parliamentary pressures have been factored in and urge that violence against women is given the priority it needs."
Rachel Krys, co-director of the charity End Violence Against Women, told BuzzFeed News she had felt a slowing of progress from parliament on tackling gender violence, from delays in parliamentary questions being asked to increased difficulty in accessing civil service time, since Britain voted to leave the EU in June.
But she also believed May's explicit commitment to tackling violence against women meant her promises could not be revoked in light of Brexit.
"A bill supported by the prime minister, that she’s really put her name behind, is much more likely to get space and time and get through than anything else," Krys said.
"She does stake her reputation on this area," Krys added, noting that May had raised issues around gender violence both as home secretary, and now as prime minister. "It’s unusual for Number 10 to lead on a bill like this, so this it has a lot more hope than some other bills."
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Laura Silver at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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