Tory minister refuses to apologise after Brianna Ghey's dad calls on PM to say sorry over 'degrading' trans jibe

7 February 2024, 19:12 | Updated: 7 February 2024, 19:25

Brianna's father has called on the PM to apologise for his comments.
Brianna's father has called on the PM to apologise for his comments. Picture: Alamy/Handout

By Jenny Medlicott

A Tory minister has defended Rishi Sunak's ‘trans jibe’ at PMQs as Brianna Ghey’s father calls on the PM to apologise for his comments.

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Speaking to LBC’s Tonight with Andrew Marr, Laura Trott, chief secretary to the treasury, defended the Prime Minister’s remarks.

Ms Trott told LBC: "I've got to be very, very clear, this was not a joke. it was nothing to do with this appalling tragedy. 

"It was about Keir Starmer's U-turns. The trans issue does really matter.... there is a genuine debate about whether it was right to transition at a young age. 

"This a desperate, difficult situation. The PM was not talking about this case."

Mr Sunak faced an onslaught of criticism on Wednesday for joking that Keir Starmer has 'u-turned' on how to 'define a woman' while the mother of murdered teenager Brianna Ghey was visiting Parliament.

Ms Trott's comments come as Brianna's father Peter Spooner said Mr Sunak’s remarks were “absolutely dehumanising” as he called on the PM to apologise.

“Identities of people should not be used in that manner, and I personally feel shocked by his comments," Mr Spooner told Sky News.

He said that “regardless of them [the comments] being in relation to discussions in Parliament” that Mr Sunak “should apologise for his remarks”.

Tory minister refuses to apologise for PM's trans jibe

Despite mounting calls to apologise for his comments, Rishi Sunak doubled down on his remarks on Wednesday, as a spokesman for the Prime Minister said his criticisms of Sir Keir were 'legitimate'.

They said: “If you look back on what the Prime Minister was saying, there was a long list of u-turns that the leader of the opposition had been making.”

"I don't think those u-turns are a joke, it is quite serious changes in public policy. I think it is totally legitimate for the Prime Minister to point those out."

Jamie Wallis, the first transgender MP and member of the Conservative party, said on Wednesday that he believes Mr Sunak’s ‘insensitive’ comments were ‘inadvertent’.

In response to the comments, he said: “I know from my own interactions with the Prime Minister that today's display of insensitivity must have been inadvertent.

“Today has been a tough day for me, but all I can think about right now is Brianna's mother. Let us all think of her as we choose how to progress with this debate.”

A fierce row has erupted between the Conservatives and Labour amid the fallout of Mr Sunak’s comments, as equalities minister Kemi Badenoch accused the Labour party of ‘weaponising’ Brianna Ghey’s death earlier on Wednesday.

She wrote on X: “Every murder is a tragedy. None should be trivialised by political point-scoring. 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.

“Keir Starmer’s behaviour today shows Labour are happy to weaponise this issue when it suits them”.

Sunak criticised over transgender remark in PMQs as Brianna Ghey’s mother watches

Keir Starmer hit out at Rishi Sunak for making the remark while 'Brianna Ghey's mother was in the chamber' during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking to the House, the Prime Minister listed the 'empty promises' and 'U-turns' he claims Sir Keir has made since becoming Labour Party leader.

Among these Mr Sunak included Sir Keir's alleged U-turn on ‘defining a woman’.

Mr Sunak told the House: "We are bringing the waiting lists down for the longest waiters and making progress, but it is a bit rich to hear about promises from someone who has broken every single promise he was elected on.

"I think I have counted almost 30 in the last year. Pensions, planning, peerages, public sector pay, tuition fees, childcare, second referendums, defining a woman - although in fairness that was only 99% of a U-turn."

Sir Keir made a remark last year saying 99.9% of women do not have a penis.

Mr Sunak's comments came after Sir Keir had told the gallery that the mother of murdered transgender teenager Brianna Ghey was at PMQs - although it is unclear if the Prime Minister heard she was present.

Sir Keir was scheduled to meet Ms Ghey after the session.

He opened the session: "This week the unwavering bravery of Brianna Ghey's mother Esther has touched us all. As a father, I can't even imagine the pain that she is going through and I am glad that she is with us in the gallery here today."

Read more: 'We are truly sorry': Scarlett Jenkinson's family speak out as teen is sentenced for 'sadistic' killing of Brianna Ghey

Read more: 'It's the Wild West': Brianna Ghey's mum calls for social media ban for under-16s to prevent similar tragedies

Esther Ghey met Sir Keir after the session on Wednesday.
Esther Ghey met Sir Keir after the session on Wednesday. Picture: Getty

Sir Keir quickly hit out at the Prime Minister after his remarks, telling the House: “Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna's mother is in this chamber. “Shame,” he added.

The rest of the gallery erupted into chants repeating "shame".

“I think the role of the prime minister is to ensure that every single citizen in this country feels safe and respected. It's a shame the prime minister doesn't share that,” Sir Keir continued.

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

While Sir Keir tells the gallery Ms Ghey is present, it is unclear whether she was actually in the gallery for PMQs or had been visiting Parliament more generally.

James and Natasha react to Rishi Sunak's PMQs slip up

Mr Sunak has since faced an onslaught of criticism from various MPs over the joke and mounting calls to apologise.

Labour MP for Nottingham East Nadia Whittome wrote on X: “Absolutely sickening for Rishi Sunak to make a transphobic joke at PMQs while Brianna Ghey’s mother is watching in the chamber.

“That’s all trans people are to him: an opportunity for cheap point-scoring.”

Labour MP for Coventry South Zarah Sultana labelled the jibe as ‘disgusting’, as she wrote on X: “Disgusted to hear Rishi Sunak make a transphobic jibe in the Commons, even as Brianna Ghey's mother is in the public gallery.

“Brianna's horrific murder – which was confirmed as being motivated by transphobia – should have finally taught politicians not to spread this hate.”

While Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper said the jibe had brought "shame on his office".

She wrote: “Appalling scenes in PMQs as Sunak taunts trans people (“what is a woman”) in front of Esther Ghey, mother of Brianna Ghey, who is watching in the Commons gallery today.

“The PM has brought shame on his office and on the House. MPs are rightly shouting ‘apologise’.

A spokesman for the Labour leader said: "We don’t think the country wants or deserves a Prime Minister who is happy to use minorities as a punch bag. His comments were deeply offensive to trans people and he should reflect on his response and apologise.”

Brianna's mother was reportedly at PMQs on Wednesday.
Brianna's mother was reportedly at PMQs on Wednesday. Picture: Supplied

Speaking to LBC, jane fae the director of the trans supportive organisation, Transactual, slammed Mr Sunak for ‘making a political point out of a murdered trans girl’.

She said: “It’s just crass. There is no other word for it. It is almost as though Rishi Sunak doesn’t know – he talks about defining a woman, I’d ask him to define a human being frankly.

“He doesn’t seem to know how to act with dignity, with any sort of grace and to make a comment like that, to make a political point out of trans people while the mother of a murdered trans girl is there listening to you is beyond belief.”

She continued: “Sunak may wish to apply a very specific narrow biological definition which is not a definition that trans people would apply themselves but in UK law, the definition is not black and white so one could as easily push it back at Sunak and say would you like to explain how you define a man or a woman in UK law.

“Sunak is clearly fermenting fear and distress within the trans community. He’s doing that because he thinks it plays to the anti-woke tendency in the Tory party and what it boils down to is that for political advantage, he’s happy to treat a segment of the British population – however small we are, because we’re an incredibly small minority – he’s prepared to treat us as lesser, as not human, as not citizens.”

The clash between the two party leaders comes after the two teenagers who killed the transgender teenager were jailed for a minimum of 42 years in total last week.

Scarlett Jenkinson was given a minimum term of 22 years, minus time on remand, while Eddie Ratcliffe got 20 years minimum minus term on remand at Manchester Crown Court.