Rishi Sunak is facing an barrage of criticism after his trans jibe in front of Brianna Ghey's mum: Number 10/ Flickr
Rishi Sunak is facing calls to resign as UK prime minister after making a “transphobic” joke in front of the mum of murdered trans girl Brianna Ghey.
Outrage is growing as the prime minister refuses to apologise for the joke, which he made during an exchange with Labour leader Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (7 February).
A chorus of critics have accused Sunak of “transphobic cruelty” after the unelected PM joked about the “definition of a woman” as Brianna’s mother watched on from the public gallery in the House of Commons.
Peter Spooner, Brianna’s father, has slammed the nasty jibe.
“For the prime minister of our country to come out with degrading comments like he did, regardless of them being in relation to discussions in parliament, they are absolutely dehumanising,” he told Sky News.
“Identities of people should not be used in that manner and I personally feel shocked by his comments, and feel he should apologise for his remarks.”
The PM has refused to do so, saying it “demonstrates the worst of politics” to link the comment to Brianna.
“To have your child taken from you in such awful circumstances is almost impossible to come to terms with… 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,” he said.
Sunak accused Keir Starmer of not being able to define a woman – “although in fairness that was only 99% of a U-turn;” a reference to Starmer previously stating that “99.9% of women do not have penises.”
The comments have provoked outrage from trans advocates and MPs from across the political spectrum.
Cleo Madeleine, from trans-led grassroots organisation Gendered Intelligence, said that the comment was evidence of how “normalised” hostility towards trans people has become.
“The fact that it took the most powerful man in the country making fun of a murdered child and her family to get people up in arms about it is really disappointing,” she said.
“Politicians should have been calling this out much earlier, and should have been recognising the consequences of this kind of language and this kind of hostility much earlier.”
“The remarks made were disgusting, and somebody so lacking in empathy and compassion is not fit to be prime minister,” they said.
Charilaou welcomed the widespread condemnation of Sunak – but urged people to reflect on the nature of this anger.
“My concern is that the negative reaction has revolved around the fact that the comment was crass and disrespectful. It absolutely was, but it was also utterly wrong,” they said.
“If Brianna’s mother hadn’t been in attendance, it’s the kind of comment he would have been allowed to get away with.
“I would like to see some self-reflection from certain parts of the media and political class who’ve indulged transphobic talking points in the last few years: when will they understand what this dehumanisation of the trans community leads to?”
Who was Brianna Ghey?
16 year-old Brianna Ghey was murdered in a Cheshire park in February last year. Last week, teenagers Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe were jailed for two decades for her murder – which the court found was at least partly motivated transphobic hate.
In the UK, hate crimes against transgender people have increased by 186% in the last five years.
Writing for the Big Issue, trans journalist and advocate Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir said that “these crimes do not happen in a vacuum.”
“They happen in a society where anti-trans sentiments have become commonplace, and where expressing transphobic and offensive views about trans people as ‘an opinion’ has become acceptable. It all forms a bigger picture, even if it is ‘just a joke’ in the Commons. It’s a build up, and many parts make a whole.”
The PM has repeatedly weaponised transgender issues to whip up culture wars. Last year, Sunak told Conservative delegates in Manchester: “We shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be. They can’t – a man is a man and a woman is a woman.”
Tory Jamie Wallis, the UK’s first openly transgender MP, said that the PM’s “display of insensitivity” was “inadvertent”. But trans author and campaigner Paris Lees condemned this framing.
“Because unless you agree to point at people like me and say ‘You can’t have kids! You’ll never be a real woman!’ then you ‘don’t know what a woman is.’ Ha ha,” she wrote.
“It’s not ‘trans issues’, ‘gender politics’ or ‘commenting on policy’. It’s transphobia.”
LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall accused the prime minister of being “cheap, callous, and crass.”
Singer Paloma Faith simply labelled the PM as a “c**t.”
Media group What the Trans!? slammed the comments as “disgusting.”
Labour’s Jess Phillips described Sunak as a “deplorable man with no heart, no sense, no clue.”
“How dare he be so gross in the face of the family of a murdered child. He is the lowest of the low.”
Starmer’s reaction to the comment – to immediately slam Sunak as ‘shameful’ for making it in front of the mum of Brianna Ghey – was the right one, said Charilou. But he now needs to take “actions to back up his words.”
“We need Labour to play its part in reversing the toxic atmosphere for trans people in this country,” they said.
“That means recommitting to the bare-minimum policies trans people need, from self-ID gender recognition to proper funding of the broken trans healthcare system, as well as tackling transphobia in the Labour Party.”