Nicola Sturgeon 'weaponising vulnerable' with gender identity law

Tories slam Nicola Sturgeon for ‘weaponising vulnerable children’ to boost ‘separatist agenda’ after UK government blocks SNP’s ‘shoddy’ gender identity law – while Scots Green MSP suggests EIGHT-YEAR-OLDS should be able to change gender

  • Rishi Sunak is blocking Scotland’s gender identity legislation from becoming law
  • PM will use Section 35 of Scotland Act to halt Holyrood’s controversial overhaul  
  • SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon complained of ‘full-frontal attack’ on Scottish Parliament
  • Tories slammed her for ‘weaponising vulnerable’ to boost independence drive 

Tories accused Nicola Sturgeon of ‘weaponising vulnerable children’ to further her separatist drive today.

MPs lined up to support Scottish Secretary Alister Jack in the Commons as he laid out the reasons for wielding an unprecedented veto over the SNP’s gender identity shake-up.

Mr Jack said the decision was not taken ‘lightly’ but Westminster could not accept the ‘adverse’ impact on UK-wide equalities law.

Ms Sturgeon has warned it is ‘inevitable’ that she will seek a judicial review of the move, branding it a ‘full-frontal attack’ on Holyrood.

But Conservatives slammed the measures as a ‘pathetic snidey attempt’ to boost the independence drive, and praised Mr Jack for ‘standing up for sex-based rights’.

Former minister Tim Loughton said the row had been ‘confected by the SNP in support of their separatist agenda’. 

The stormy scenes in Parliament came after a Green MSP claimed Scotland ‘should be exploring’ whether children as young as eight can decide whether to change gender. 

Mr Jack ignored cries of ‘shame’ from a noisy gaggle of SNP MPs in the House this afternoon as he said;: ‘The Government has looked closely at the potential impact of the Bill and I’ve considered all relevant policy and operational implications together with the minister for women and equalities.

‘And it is our assessment that the Bill would have a serious adverse impact among other things on the operation of the Equality Act 2010.

‘Those adverse effects include impacts on the operation of single-sex clubs, associations and schools and protections such as equal pay.’

The Bill would allow trans people to self-identify without a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and lower the minimum age that Scots can legally change their gender from 18 to 16. 

It also proposes reducing the timescale for obtaining a gender recognition certificate (GRC) from two years to three months for over-18s.

But it has provoked fears that abusive males could take advantage of the new system, and has put Scotland on a constitutional collision course with Westminster. 

MPs lined up to support Scottish Secretary Alister Jack (pictured) in the Commons as he laid out the reasons for wielding an unprecedented veto

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had warned the UK Government against blocking the gender identity legislation

Maggie Chapman, who represents North East Scotland in the Scottish Parliament, staunchly defended controversial gender identity reforms passed by Holyrood

Nicola Sturgeon hit out at a ‘full-frontal attack’ on Holyrood and vowed her Scottish Government would continue to defend the gender legislation

Downing Street today slapped down a Cabinet minister for suggesting 16-year-olds are old enough to change genders.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan strayed off message during a round of interviews by backing reducing the age limit from 18.

That is one of the moves in legislation passed by Holyrood – which is being blocked by Westminster because it would clash with existing UK laws.

After pointing out that she personally had been working and paying tax at 16, Ms Keegan then frantically tried to quell the row in an appearance later by saying she did not have a ‘strong opinion’.

And No10 made clear there is no change to the government’s position. ‘We consulted on this issue and went with 18 as the right age … she made clear herself that she was speaking about her own personal standpoint,’ the PM’s spokesman said. 

Conservative former attorney general Sir Jeremy Wright said ‘every devolved legislature has to legislate with consideration for the other parts of the United Kingdom’.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross told the Commons: ‘Nicola Sturgeon has now tried to turn this into a political battle between the Scottish and UK Government, when all, as I understand it, the Scottish Secretary and the Government are trying to do is protect women’s rights.

‘So despite the howls that we are getting from the SNP, can the Scottish Secretary confirm that all the SNP have to do is bring forward a Bill in the Scottish Parliament that protects the rights of women and girls across the United Kingdom?’

Mr Jack reiterated that what the Bill ‘is missing is sufficient protections and safeguards for women and children that are reflected in existing Westminster legislation’.

Mr Loughton said: ‘I share the concerns about the rights of biological women to single-sex spaces. But I’m most concerned about the capacity of children, minors, to determine their own gender and embark on potentially life-changing physical transformations.

‘This dispute has been confected by the SNP in pursuit of their separatist agenda.

‘So does my right honourable friend agree that it really is shameful that they have weaponised vulnerable children in pursuit of that agenda, and would impose that agenda on the majority of children across the whole of the United Kingdom?’

Mr Jack replied simply: ‘Yes.’

Labour’s Rosie Duffield complained about her own colleagues berating her as she spoke.

Posting on Twitter she said: ‘Being shouted down in the Chamber by @UKLabour men who clearly don’t want women to speak up for our rights to single sex spaces. How very progressive #Section35’.

Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi, a shadow Northern Ireland minister but speaking from the backbenches, said ‘the rights of women and other vulnerable groups should not be pawns in (Nicola Sturgeon’s) constitutional game playing’. 

Conservative MP Rachel Maclean was also barracked as she told the Commons: ‘There is a clear read across to the Equalities Act in our country. Having served in the Home Office and seen the desperate need for women and girls to be protected from grooming gangs, from predators, from sex offenders, to access those single-sex space services…’

An MP could be heard shouting or possibly attempting to sing as she made this argument.

Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans intervened to say: ‘Let’s not have that. You may not agree with what people are saying, but please have the respect that they have the ability to say what they want to say.’

Initially a judicial review is set to be put to the Court of Session in Scotland by the Holyrood administration, but it is likely to end up in the UK Supreme Court. 

Judges there dealt a huge blow to Ms Sturgeon at the end of last year when it ruled she could not hold another independence referendum without Westminster’s permission.

In order to prevent the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from becoming law, the UK Government will make an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998.

The move is the first time UK ministers have used a Section 35 order since devolution more than two decades ago.

Mr Jack wrote to Ms Sturgeon yesterday to inform her of the UK Government’s decision.

‘After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation,’ he said in a statement.

‘Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding.

‘My decision is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.

‘I have not taken this decision lightly. The bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales.

‘I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.’

Ms Sturgeon responded by tweeting: ‘This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters.’

The Scotland Act, which established a devolved Scottish government and parliament, gives Westminster four weeks to consider bills passed by Holyrood that could have an ‘adverse effect on the operation of the law’.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed by MSPs on December 22, meaning the deadline was tomorrow.

Westminster’s legal advice suggested the new measures would ‘cut across’ UK-wide legislation on equalities.

Rishi Sunak raised his concerns about the reforms with Nicola Sturgeon during a private dinner in Inverness last week

The measures passed at Holyrood have been highly controversial in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK (pictured, protests in Edinburgh last week)

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross told LBC last night: ‘I would say a majority of voters, when they’re polled on this, oppose this legislation.

‘They oppose the Scottish government plans to do this.

‘They can’t understand why Nicola Sturgeon rushed it through the Scottish Parliament.’

The Scottish Tory leader said the controversial legislation blocked by the UK Government ‘seriously damages the rights of women’ and ‘has a huge impact on the UK wide Equality Act’.

When asked if he fully supported Westminster’s decision, Mr Ross added: ‘I support this decision because I want to see an improvement in this legislation that will protect women’s rights, and we’ll see legislation that can work across the United Kingdom because at the moment, people could travel from other parts of the United Kingdom to Scotland to get a gender recognition certificate for a new gender, having lived in that gender for only three months, rather than two years at the moment.

‘Crucially, (the legislation) also reduces the age from 18 to 16.

‘These are all issues that the Scottish Conservatives raised during the debate, had serious concerns about, (and) put forward reasoned amendments on it.’

Scottish Labour MP for Edinburgh South Ian Murray MP said: ‘These issues are too important to be reduced to the usual constitutional fight.

‘The Tory and SNP Governments must not use this for political posturing, but instead get round the table and find workable solutions that address legitimate concerns.’

Transgender rights charity Stonewall accused the UK Government of using the ‘nuclear option’ in response to the Scottish bill.

Alister Jack wrote to Ms Sturgeon yesterday to inform her of the UK Government’s decision

The charity’s chief executive, Nancy Kelley, also claimed Mr Sunak was using trans people’s lives as ‘a political football’. 

Rishi Sunak raised his concerns with Ms Sturgeon about the bill during a private dinner in Inverness last week.

Speaking to broadcasters afterwards, he said: ‘Obviously this is a very sensitive area and I know there were very robust debates and exchanges on it as the bill was passing in Scotland.

‘What I’m concerned about is the impact of the bill across the United Kingdom. As is entirely standard, the UK Government would take advice on that.

‘There may be impacts across the UK that we need to be aware of and understand the impact of them.

‘That is what we are doing, and once the Government has received final advice it will set out next steps.’

Labour has also aired concerns about the Holyrood legislation.

Sir Keir Starmer has argued that 16 is not old enough to be able to decide to change gender.

The Labour leader also expressed misgivings about the potential impact on UK-wide equalities law, but warned against the issue becoming a ‘political football’.

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