UK government blocks Scottish gender recognition reforms

The gender recognition bill passed by the Scottish Parliament is one of the most divisive in decades and now risks becoming a constitutional crisis, Peter Smith reports

The UK government is to block reforms to the gender recognition process passed by the Scottish Parliament.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the decision by the government was a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish Parliament.

She hit out after Scottish Secretary Alister Jack confirmed he would make an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998.

It is the first time the UK government has sought such an order, which will now prevent the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from going forward for royal assent, and the move will only further increase tension between the Scottish and UK governments.

Announcing his decision Mr Jack said: “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.”

Nicola Sturgeon said the decision was a “full-frontal attack” on the Scottish Parliament. Credit: PA

He insisted this was the “necessary and correct course of action”.

In response Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters.”

She pledged the Scottish government would “defend the legislation and stand up for Scotland’s Parliament”.

She added: “If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be first of many.”

The legislation, which was passed last month, sets out to simplify the process of obtaining a Gender Recognition certificate, and for the first time allows transgender people to obtain such a document without the need for a medical diagnosis.

It would also cut the time they have to live in their acquired gender before applying for a certificate and reduce the age at which an application can be made to 16.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross backed the move saying the legislation “seriously damages the rights of women”.The MP for Moray said Nicola Sturgeon had “rushed” the Bill through Parliament and that “a majority of voters” are against the reforms.Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said recently he was concerned about the plan to lower the application age.

Westminster has overruled the Holyrood legislation. Credit: PA

Mr Jack, who has written to both Ms Sturgeon and Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone about the matter, insisted that “transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding”.

He stated: “My decision today 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."

He said if Holyrood ministers were to bring an amended Bill back for reconsideration, he would hope that the Scottish and UK governments could “work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of UK Parliament legislation”.

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