Rishi Sunak may be forced into an apology for clumsy ‘defining a woman’ attack line | Politics News

The debate surrounding trans rights – and how far governments should go in promoting and advancing them – is at the bitter heart of the culture wars.

The Conservatives know it’s an issue which concerns many of their voters, and it’s long been a central part of Rishi Sunak’s regular attack on Sir Keir Starmer as a “flip flopper” who keeps changing his mind.

It’s certainly true that Labour has been on quite a journey on the topic.

Politics Live: Starmer meets with Brianna Ghey’s mother after Sunak’s ‘disgusting’ transgender jibe

Three years ago Sir Keir Starmer committed to introduce self-declaration for transgender people and Labour MSPs in Scotland were whipped to support Nicola Sturgeon’s gender reform bill – ultimately blocked by the UK government – which would have made it easier for people to change gender.

This all led the Labour MP Rosie Duffield, herself a survivor of domestic violence, to accuse her party of having a “woman problem”. A year ago, Sir Keir changed tack – claiming there would be no “rolling back” of women’s rights if Labour win the next general election.

He called for an end to the “toxic divide” over the issue by arguing that while 99.9% of women “of course haven’t got a penis…a very small number'” of people identify as a different gender to the one they were born with, and need legal support as a result.

Rishi Sunak during PMQS

But now it’s the prime minister under attack over the issue – the clumsy decision to re-use his jibe about Sir Keir Starmer being unable to “define a woman” on the very day Brianna Ghey‘s mother was attending parliament prompting an appalled reaction from many MPs – with cries of “shame” echoing around the House of Commons chamber.

The 16-year-old’s brutal murder – partly motivated by “transphobic hostility”, according to the sentencing judge – has rocked the country. Her mother Esther’s calm dignity in the face of such an appalling crime and her calls for greater controls over social media access for young people have resonated across the political spectrum.

Read more:
Read Brianna Ghey’s family’s impact statements
Family of one of Brianna Ghey’s killers “truly sorry”

Despite this Mr Sunak resolutely refused to apologise when asked by the Labour MP Liz Twist, although he later addressed Esther directly, praising her for demonstrating “the very best of humanity in the face of seeing the very worst of humanity”.

But the warm words are unlikely to dampen the anger at this collision between the aggressive political point scoring of PMQs and the raw human emotion surrounding Brianna’s terrible death.

The PM’s spokesperson stuck to his guns in the post PMQs huddle with journalists, arguing that Mr Sunak was simply listing a “long list of Keir Starmer’s U-turns” and refusing to engage with questions about whether the line was transphobic.

But with warnings from LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall about the impact of the “careless words of those in power”, and the outpouring of anger online and on the airwaves – there are clearly big questions about how long his refusal to offer an apology will hold.


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