Sunak refuses to apologise to Brianna Ghey's family over trans jibe insisting what he said was 'absolutely legitimate'

8 February 2024, 12:09 | Updated: 8 February 2024, 12:43

Rishi Sunak has refused to apologise over his comments
Rishi Sunak has refused to apologise over his comments. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Rishi Sunak has continued to refuse to apologise to Brianna Ghey’s family over a trans jibe he made during PMQs, arguing that it was "absolutely legitimate".

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Rishi Sunak refused to say sorry over his transgender joke, saying it was "sad and wrong" to link it to Brianna Ghey's case.

He accused Sir Keir Starmer of having difficulty in "defining a woman" during an attack on Labour Party U-turns.

Brianna's father, Peter Spooner, said the PM should say sorry for the "degrading" and "dehumanising" remark, which he made while her mother, Esther, was visiting Parliament.

But Mr Sunak has instead doubled down on his comments. He argued that it was "the worst of politics" to link his comments to Brianna's case.

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

On a visit to Cornwall, he said: "Like everyone, I was completely shocked by Brianna's case. To have your child taken from you in such awful circumstances is almost impossible to come to terms with, and for Brianna's mum to talk with such empathy and compassion about that, I thought, was inspiring and it showed the very best of humanity.

"I've nothing but the most heartfelt sympathy for her entire family and friends.

"But to use that tragedy to detract from the very separate and clear point I was making about Keir Starmer's proven track record of multiple U-turns on major policies, because he doesn't have a plan, I think is both sad and wrong, and it demonstrates the worst of politics."

When asked to respond to Mr Spooner's demand for an apology, Mr Sunak said: "If you look at what I said, I was very clear, talking about Keir Starmer's proven track record of U-turns on major policies because he doesn't have a plan."

James O'Brien: 'You don't do it when the mother of a murdered transgender girl is in the building.'

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

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

Speaking to the House on Wednesday afternoon, 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."

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."

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

Mr Sunak has since faced an onslaught of criticism 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.