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Theresa May on veil ruling: Women have a right to choose how they dress

Theresa May has insisted women should be free to choose to wear what they want after a European court ruled that workers can be banned from wearing headscarves and other religious symbols.

The Prime Minister said "it is not for Government" to dictate what people can wear and stressed her commitment to freedom of expression.

Her comments come after the ruling by the European Court of Justice sparked a fierce backlash, with politicians warning that political correctness is undermining long-held values of freedom of expression.

Speaking in the Commons during PMQs, Mrs May said: "We have a strong tradition in this country of freedom of expression, and it is the right of all women to choose how they dress and we don't intend to legislate on this issue.

"You have raised the broader issue of symbols, but of course this case came up particularly in relation to the wearing of the veil.

"There will be times when it is right for a veil to be asked to be removed, such as border security or perhaps in courts, and individual institutions can make their own policies.

"But it is not for Government to tell women what they can and cannot wear, and we want to continue that strong tradition of freedom of expression."

Her comments came after Tory former minister Tim Loughton took a swipe at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's performances in PMQs, which he contrasted with the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus and his co-conspirators.

Mr Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) said: "Today is the Ides of March, yet again Brutus opposite missed badly.

"So, can the Prime Minister take the opportunity to stick the knife in to the ridiculous European Court that ruled yesterday that employers can ban their staff from wearing signs of religious or political belief, and reiterate that reasonable freedom of expression should never be snuffed out by obsequious political correctness?"

Later on, Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Select Committee, asked an urgent question in the Commons about the ruling.

The Conservative MP said: "We have a long tradition in this country of respecting religious freedom and many people will frankly listen in disbelief to the court's ruling that a corporate multinational like G4S risks its corporate neutrality being undermined by a receptionist in Belgium wearing a headscarf.

"At what point did the law decide that expression of religious belief - through a cross, a turban or a headscarf - was a threat to organisational neutrality?

"And will some organisations, like perhaps our own here in the House of Commons, where our staff pride themselves on neutrality, be forced to consider this new ruling?"

She said there are "serious potential implications" to the ruling which could pave the way for Muslim women to effectively be excluded from the workplace.

Her concerns were echoed by Sarah Champion, the shadow equalities secretary, who said: "Women and men must be allowed to choose their expression of faith. Simply put, this judgment is not consistent with the British liberal and human rights tradition.

"Of real concern is the implications it may now have for faith communities. Already (the) far-right across Europe are rallying around this judgment."

Caroline Dinenage, equalities minister, said the Government does not believe the ruling fundamentally changes the law.

She said: "This Government is completely opposed to discrimination, including whether on the grounds of gender or religion or both, and it is the right of all women to choose how they dress and we do not believe that these judgments change that."

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