UK will not ban religious symbols at work, insists Theresa May after EU court ruling

Theresa May has insisted the government will not enforce a hijab ban after an EU court ruled employers can ban workers from wearing religious symbols.

The Prime Minister said the UK has a strong tradition of religious freedom and said she would play no part in telling women what to wear.

ParliamentLive.TVTheresa May said it was not for the government to tell women what to wear

'There will be times when its right for a veil to be asked to be removed, such as border security or perhaps in court, and individual institutions can make their own policies,' she said in response to a question by Tory MP Tim Loughton.

'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.'

In a Commons urgent question on the issue later, minister for equalities Caroline Dinenage said the government would be updating guidance for employers on dealing with religion at work.

But she told MPs enraged over the ban that the court's rulings were not discriminatory.

'A rule is directly discriminatory if it treats someone less favourably because of their sex, race, religion or whatever,' she said. 'A rule is indirectly discriminatory if, on the face of it, it treats everyone the same, but some people, because of their race, religion, sex and so on, find it harder to comply than others do.

'Indirect discrimination may be justifiable if an employer is acting in a proportionate manner to achieve a legitimate aim.'

Dinenage said the ruling did not affect any laws or current stances and told MPs employers can enforce a dress code banning headscarves when it applies to everyone equally.

'The judgments confirm the existing long-standing position of EU and domestic law that an employer's dress code, where it applies to and is applied in the same way to all employees, may be justifiable if the employer can show legitimate and proportionate grounds for it,' she said.

'The UK's legal position has not changed,' she went on. 'The EHRC has already published guidance for employers on religion and belief in the workplace, and we will work with it to update that guidance to take account of these rulings and to carefully explain how they should be interpreted in UK workplaces.

'But I must reiterate that this Government are absolutely committed to supporting people into work whatever their background, making Britain a country that works for everyone and not just the privileged few.'