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Sunak refuses to apologise to Brianna Ghey’s family for transgender joke for third time

The Prime Minister was grilled on the row during an appearance on local radio

Dominic McGrath
Friday 09 February 2024 10:55 GMT
Minister says Rishi Sunak’s trans jibe should not be made into ‘huge issue’

Rishi Sunak is continuing to resist calls to apologise for his transgender joke in the Commons this week, after he was grilled on the row during an appearance on local radio.

The Prime Minister, who is visiting constituencies in the South West, was repeatedly pressed on whether he would say sorry to Brianna Ghey’s father and her family after Peter Spooner called the jibe “dehumanising” and “degrading”.

Mr Sunak had accused Sir Keir Starmer of being incapable of “defining a woman” in an attack on Labour U-turns in the Commons, while Esther Ghey, Brianna’s mother, visited Parliament.

The comments sparked widespread criticism, with some Tory MPs also conceding that the Prime Minister had made a mistake in his remarks.

He has so far declined to apologise, with the Labour leader on Thursday urging him to do so “as swiftly as possible”.

Mr Sunak rejected the idea he had been making a joke during an interview on BBC Radio Somerset, as he sought to blame Sir Keir instead.

“That is not what I did, it is wrong to say that,” he told the station.

“What happened was a tragedy and using that to try and detract from the completely separate and very clear point I was making about Keir Starmer and his proven track record of U-turning on multiple policy issues because he doesn’t have a plan.”

He added: “To drag someone’s family in the face of tragedy into politics like this, I don’t think it’s right. I think it’s sad and it’s wrong.”

Sir Keir Starmer rejected suggestions from Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch that he was trying to weaponise’ the exchange during Prime Minister’s Questions (PA)

Sir Keir had on Thursday rejected suggestions from Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch that he was the one trying to “weaponise” the exchange during Prime Minister’s Questions.

“She’s completely and utterly wrong. The idea that I’m responsible for Rishi Sunak’s comments is through the looking glass,” the Labour leader told reporters.

The interview comes after another day of fallout over Mr Sunak’s “how to define a woman” comment:

  • The prime minister invited Brianna’s mother Esther Ghey to Downing Street to discuss online safety
  • He again refused to apologise for the joke, saying it was “sad and wrong” that the Labour leader had linked his comments to Brianna
  • A minister appeared to suggest Brianna’s father should “actually listen” to what the PM had said
  • Ms Ghey broke her silence, stressing that her “focus is on creating a positive change and a lasting legacy for Brianna”
  • Gordon Brown weighed in, saying he had acted when he once referred to a voter as a bigot, adding: “I made mistakes… but I apologised and I think that’s a lesson that all prime ministers should follow”

The row erupted on Wednesday when Mr Sunak accused Sir Keir in the Commons of being incapable of “defining a woman” and said it was one of many issues on which he had changed his mind.

An angry Labour leader immediately admonished the Tory leader. He said: “Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna’s mother is in this chamber. Shame.”

Tory former minister Dehenna Davison said it was “disappointing to hear jokes being made at the trans community’s expense”, while Labour’s Jess Phillips called the prime minister “an absolute disgrace”.

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