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Rishi Sunak Refusing To Apologise For Trans Jibe In Front Of Murdered Trans Teen's Mum

Rishi Sunak has faced backlash over his remarks about trans people at PMQs. (Alamy)

5 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing backlash after appearing to make a jibe about Labour's position on trans people during Prime Minister's Questions, despite being told moments earlier that the mother of murdered trans girl Brianna Ghey was in the chamber.

Sunak made the remarks during an exchange with Labour leader Keir Starmer after being challenged on the government's record on NHS dentistry, missing waiting list targets, and doctors strikes. The Labour leader had started his question by highlighting Brianna's mother, Esther, was in the viewing gallery. 

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

"Mr Speaker, we are bringing the waiting lists down for the longest waiters we're making progress - but it's a bit rich to hear about promises from someone who's broken every single promise he was elected on," said Sunak in response to Starmer's question. 

"I think I've counted 30 in the last year. Pensions, planning, peerages, public sector pay, tuition fees, child care, second referendums, defining a woman - although in fairness, that was on 99 per cent of a u-turn, the list goes on, but the theme is the same."

Although Sunak's remarks appeared to be met with supportive cheers from the Tory benches, there were soon shouts of "shame" from MPs when Starmer criticised Sunak's comments. 

"Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna's mother is in this chamber..." said Starmer. 

"Shame. Parading as a man of integrity when he's got absolutely no responsibility."

Sunak also failed to apologise later on in PMQs despite being asked by an MP to do so, but did pay tribute to Ghey's mother at the end of PMQs – to jeers from opposition MPs calling on him to apologise.

"Mr Speaker, if I could just say, also to Brianna Ghey's mum who is here - as I said earlier this week, what happened was an unspeakable and shocking tragedy Mr Speaker..." said Sunak. 

"In the face of that, for her mother to demonstrate the compassion and empathy that she did last weekend I thought demonstrated the very best of humanity in the face of seeing the very worst of humanity, and she deserves all our admiration and praise for that."

Labour MP and former shadow domestic violence minister Jess Phillips told PoliticsHome Sunak should apologise. "He should also apologise to the women in our country who he uses as a cover for his nastiness, he has done nothing to prioritise safety of women and is overseeing rape victims waiting 5 years to get inside a court room," she said. 

But following PMQs, the Prime Minister's spokesperson appeared to suggest that Sunak would not be apologising for his comments. 

"There was a long list of u-turns the leader of the opposition had been making, I don't think those u-turns are a joke," the Prime Minister's spokesperson said. 

"Those are quite serious changes in public policy, I think it's totally legitimate for the Prime Minister to point those out." 

Government ministers have come out in defence of the prime minister following PMQs, with equalities minister Kemi Badenoch accusing Labour of choosing to "weaponise the issue when it suits them". 

"Every murder is a tragedy. None should be trivialised by political point-scoring," Badenoch wrote on X. "As a mother, I can imagine the trauma that Esther Ghey has endured. It was shameful of Starmer to link his own inability to be clear on the matter of sex and gender directly to her grief.

"As Minister for Women and Equalities I've done all I can to ensure we have take the heat out of the debate on LGBT issues while being clear about our beliefs and principles."

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also defended the Prime Minister, telling ITV: "The Prime Minister bows to no one in his respect for Brianna's mother, Esther - but what he would say is, that he wasn't talking about that, he was talking about Keir Starmer not being able to make up his mind."

Earlier this week Charlotte Nichols MP told PoliticsHome she wanted to see politicians cease using issues affecting trans people as "a cheap stick to beat each other with across politics and across the media".  Brianna's mother, Esther, was Nichols' guest at PMQs on Wednesday. 

"You see this real whipping up of rhetoric about trans people in Westminster – and in Cheshire, for example, in the last year, there's been about a 50 per cent increase in reported hate crimes that are transphobic in nature; in Greater Manchester next door, it's 165 per cent increase," Nichols said.

"Now some of these things will be linked to more reporting. And of course, that's welcome because you can't address what you're not measuring and tracking. But that can't tell the whole picture.

"And when we look at the fact that transphobia was the secondary motive in Brianna's murder, something that was confirmed by the judge in sentencing, I think we have to consider that again.

"Young people don't develop those kinds of views in a vacuum, and we all have a duty and a responsibility to try to treat these issues in a way that's sensitive..."

Nichols insisted all MPs needed to "commit to doing better" on treating certain issues with sensitivity. "Because the way that some of the debate about trans people goes in Westminster, and in mainstream media outlets... it's not just embarrassing, but it's hateful," she continued. 

"There are issues within some of the debate about potentially competing rights that are complex and are nuanced - but we can't get to that nuance and complexity if it's all cheap sound bites, and whipping up hate.

"There's a path through this: one that can be conducted respectfully and isn't putting people in danger," she added.

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