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Rishi Sunak has been criticised for making a reference to trans people in a jibe at the leader of the Labour party, as the mother of a murdered trans teenager was visiting Parliament.
Sunak at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday chided Sir Keir Starmer for Labour’s shifts on a range of policies, including on “defining a woman, although in fairness that was only 99% of a U-turn”.
The comment was a reference to the leader of the opposition stating in an interview last year that 99.9 per cent of women did not have a penis.
Starmer immediately hit back at Sunak for making the remark while Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered trans teenager Brianna Ghey, was due to be in the public gallery watching the proceedings.
“Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna’s mother is in this chamber. Shame . . . Parading as a man of integrity when he’s got absolutely no responsibility,” he said.
The Labour leader had earlier in the session noted that Esther Ghey would be watching their exchanges from the gallery. In fact she was not present for Sunak’s remark, instead taking her seat afterwards.
Peter Spooner, Brianna’s father, told Sky News that Sunak’s comments were “degrading” and “dehumanising”.
“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,” he said.
Esther Ghey met Starmer on Wednesday after she launched a campaign to ban under-16s from accessing social media on mobile phones. She attended PMQs days after her daughter’s murderers were sentenced.
Jackie Doyle-Price, a Tory MP and member of the Commons women and equalities committee, told Times Radio that Sunak’s comments had been “careless” and “ill-judged”.
One former Conservative cabinet minister expressed “huge disappointment” at the language used by the prime minister, warning it made the party look “unkind”.
A Conservative spokesperson said: “The prime minister was saying there were a lot of U-turns that the leader of the opposition has been making, I don’t think those U-turns are a joke, these are serious changes in public policy, it’s legitimate for the PM to point that out.”
They denied that Sunak had made a transphobic remark.
In July, Labour announced it would not move forward with plans to allow individuals to legally self-identify as a different gender from birth without a medical diagnosis. The Tories dropped similar proposals in 2020.
Sunak’s remark came in a week where he was also criticised for accepting a £1,000 bet over his plans to send migrants to Rwanda before the coming general election.
Later on in prime minister’s questions, Sunak said what happened to Brianna Ghey was an “unspeakable tragedy” and her mother had shown the “best of humanity in the face of seeing the very worst of humanity and she deserves all our admiration and praise for that”.
A Labour spokesperson 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.”