The Conservative Party pledged in 2018 to end “conversion” therapies which seek to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
But a Downing Street briefing document leaked to the press states: “The PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation to ban LGBT conversion therapy.”
The briefing warned officials that there would be a “noisy backlash from LGBT groups and some parliamentarians when we announce we do not intend to proceed”.
The Conversion Therapy Handling Plan document also says “the LGBT sector will read this decision as a signal the government is uninterested in LGBT issues”.
A government spokesperson confirmed the U-turn, telling The Independent: “Having explored this sensitive issue in great depth the government has decided to proceed by reviewing how existing law can be deployed more effectively to prevent this in the quickest way possible.”
The spokesperson said the government would also “explore the use of other non-legislative measures” to stop abusive practices.
Jayne Ozanne, a former government adviser who quit last year, said she was “livid” with Mr Johnson and his “betrayal” of the LGBT+ community – arguing that it would put lives at risk.
“The prime minister has shown scant regard for the lives of LGBT+ people in this callous decision, which leaves us with little option but to conclude that his word cannot be trusted,” said the Ozanne Foundation director.
Ozanne also warned: “This decision will leave countless LGBT+ people completely undefended from degrading abuse … and will embolden perpetrators to continue their horrific acts with impunity.”
Labour said the “outrageous decision” shows the prime minister could not be taken at his word on LGBT+ rights.
“A government that believes conversion therapy is acceptable in 21st-century Britain is no friend of the LGBT+ community,” said party chair Anneliese Dodds. “Labour will never abandon the fight to ban this insidious practice forever.”
Lib Dems equalities spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP added: “This is not just yet another U-turn from the Tories, but giving the green light to a form of torture in the UK. This is an utter betrayal of the LGBT+ community.”
Legislation aimed at banning conversion therapy was announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech. Senior cabinet minister Liz Truss had vowed: “There should be no place for the abhorrent practice.”
In October, Ms Truss, minister for women and equalities, launched a consultation process on the plan to make “coercive” conversion therapies illegal in England and Wales.
But the leaked document reportedly warned that some involved in the legislation had not yet been told about No 10’s change of policy – including Ms Truss.
“While Liz is not ideologically committed to the legislation, she is likely to be concerned about owning the new position, having personally committed to delivering the bill”, the briefing stated, according to reports.
The document suggested that the U-turn could be blamed on the need to prioritise government legislation from May, given the Ukraine war and cost of living crisis.
“Given the unprecedented circumstances of major pressures on cost of living and the crisis in Ukraine, there is an urgent need to rationalise our legislative programme,” it stated.
Three of the government’s LGBT+ advisers quit their posts last year and issued damning criticism over the ongoing failure of Mr Johnson’s government to fulfil the long-standing pledge.
In July 2020, Mr Johnson denounced conversion therapy as “absolutely abhorrent”, said it “has no place in a civilised society” and vowed to bring in a ban.
But over the past 18 months his government has been accused of “dragging its feet” on a promised ban, with ministers accused of making only half-hearted statements on the subject.
In Scotland, the SNP administration had vowed to end conversion therapy – but said it would wait to see if Mr Johnson’s government follows through on its pledge to “eradicate” it.
In response to news of a U-turn, actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry tweeted: “Just when I thought my contempt for this disgusting government couldn’t sink lower. A curse upon the whole lying, stinking lot of them.”
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