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Brianna Ghey's MP Hopes Rishi Sunak's Trans Jibe Fallout Is A "Turning Point" For Westminster

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has been criticised for making a jibe about trans people at PMQs. (UK Parliament/Maria Unger)

5 min read

Charlotte Nichols, Labour MP for the seat where murdered trans teen Brianna Ghey lived, has said she hopes the backlash from Rishi Sunak's jibe about trans people at Prime Minister's Questions will become a turning point for how trans issues are handled in Westminster.

The Prime Minister has been fiercely criticised by MPs and campaigners from across the political spectrum after appearing to make a joke about Labour's position on trans people in the House of Commons on Wednesday after being told moments before Brianna's mother, Esther, was present.

Brianna, 16, was stabbed 28 times in February last year by Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe, who were 15 at the time. The judge presiding over their prosecution ruled that the fact Brianna was a trans girl was part of the motivation behind the murderers' actions. 

Sunak has since paid tribute to Esther's mother but has refused to apologise for his remarks, with several cabinet ministers publicly supporting this stance. Brianna's father, Peter Spooner, has called for the Prime Minister to apologise, telling Sky News Sunak's comments had been "degrading" and "absolutely dehumanising".

Nichols told PoliticsHome she hopes the shocked reaction to Sunak's remarks from many MPs represent "a bit of a turning point" when it comes to how Westminster talks about trans people. 

"A lot of the discussion following what happened to PMQs this week has been about whether it was something that was okay to say when Brianna's family were present," Nichols said.

"But this is a wider issue, because trans people, and their families, and their loved ones will be hearing the sorts of comments made by politicians all the time – whether or not they're physically present for them.

"This isn't an abstract thing: this is real people's lives and they are signals – that are getting sent from Westminster and in the media – about the way in which it's appropriate to approach these discussions."

Brianna Ghey
Brianna Ghey, 16, was murdered in a park in Warrington in February last year. (Alamy)

She added: "We now go into recess, and I hope that it's a bit of time for all in Westminster to take a step back, reflect and I hope that when we return, these discussions can be done in a much more humane, compassionate and considered way, rather than what we've seen up to this point.

"It's a shame what's happened, and the fact that this episode has been the kind of impetus for that; but if we can take something positive forward from this, and improve the tone and tenor of the debate around these issues, that will be something good to have come out of it."

Nichols also said while there are "nuances and complexities" around gender based rights and sex based rights, she insisted they can be discussed in a "compassionate" way. 

"As I've said before there are nuances and complexities around the issue of trans people and the law," she continued. 

"But what we see all too often is cheap jibes about trans people being used as punchlines and no real effort to engage in some of these discussions with the sensitivity that they should surely demand."

Nichols also said it had been "disappointing" that the Prime Minister's remarks had overshadowed the reason Brianna's mother Esther was in parliament as her guest on Wednesday, which was to promote mindfulness in schools – one of the core legislative asks Brianna's family following her murder.

"She was there as part of her extraordinary campaigning work in the wake of her daughter's murder, where she has fundraised over £50,000 to bring mindfulness into schools in Warrington, and to talk with politicians and to be present for the debate in Westminster Hall, about how we take those issues forward," Nichols added. 

"But for the rest of the day, we were having to try to protect her from people that wanted to talk about what Sunak said, and not about her campaigning and why she was here... and that was really frustrating for all of us."

Brianna's mother, Esther, on Thursday via her Facebook page said she would not be commenting on the "wording of comments recently made" following the row. 

"My focus is on creating a positive change and a lasting legacy for Brianna," she said on her Peace & Mind UK Facebook page. 

Esther Ghey
Esther Ghey has said she will not comment on Rishi Sunak's remarks at PMQs. (Alamy)

"Through Peace & Mind, we want to improve lives by empowering people, giving them the tools they need to build mental resilience, empathy, and self-compassion through mindfulness.

"In developing these skills, I hope that we can create a more understanding, peaceful, and stronger society for everyone.”

Labour leader Starmer, who met Esther following PMQs, told the BBC on Thursday that Sunak should apologise. 

"I was genuinely shocked," Starmer said. "You had the mother of a murdered girl – and in front of her, he uses those words.

"And I'm not the only one, most of the Conservative MPs in the chamber were immediately quiet; this is not about party politics, it's about basic decency and respect."

Leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt told MPs on Thursday she hoped Sunak had reflected on his remarks.  

"The Prime Minister is a good and caring man," she said. "But I’m sure he is also reflecting about people who are trans or who have trans loved ones and family, some of whom sit on these green benches.”

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