Brianna Ghey's father calls Sunak transgender jibe in Commons 'dehumanising'

Words by Westminster Producer, Elisa Menendez

Brianna Ghey’s family has been invited to meet Rishi Sunak after the prime minister made a "dehumanising" transgender joke in the Commons while Brianna's mother was visiting Parliament, according to reports.

It comes as Brianna's father was among those who demanded an apology from Mr Sunak for his "unacceptable" remarks.

Peter Spooner told ITV News: "I feel the prime minister's comments were unacceptable. As the leader of our country he should have a more sensitive approach.

"Regardless of this being a topic for Parliament, he has been dehumanising in his approach.

"I feel he should apologise for his remarks which have come across degrading."

Technology secretary Michelle Donelan will also attend the meeting with Brianna's mother, which would be about online safety, it is understood.

Mr Sunak was urged to apologise to Esther Ghey after he made the comment in an attack on Sir Keir Starmer during Prime Minister's Questions.

Brianna, 16, pictured with mother, Esther.

Downing Street has doubled down on the comment and insisted it was "totally legitimate" and not transphobic.

The prime minister attempted to mock the leader of the Labour party's stance on "defining a woman".

A visibly shocked Sir Keir condemned Mr Sunak's remark, while opposition backbenchers shouted out: "Shame".

Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered trans teenager Brianna, was sitting in the public gallery for PMQs. It is understood, however, that she entered the public gallery after Mr Sunak's initial remark.

The PM later did not acknowledge a request from Labour MP Liz Twist in the Commons to apologise to Brianna's mother "for his insensitive comment."

Jeremy Hunt defended the prime minister and told ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston he was "not talking about that but was talking about Keir Starmer not being able to make up his mind", but added that "everyone has been incredibly struck by the courage and resolve of Brianna's mother".

Put to him that there is a time and a place for gender politics - and this was not the moment - Mr Hunt replied that Mr Sunak "was talking about Labour changing its position constantly".

Leading LGBTQ+ charity, Stonewall, has urged the PM to apologise, adding: "For the prime minister to use trans people as a punchline, in front of the grieving mother of a trans child, was cheap, callous and crass."

Former Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was "truly terrible from Sunak" but "had Brianna's mum not been there today no one (including Keir Starmer) would have batted an eyelid," while SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn said the prime minister "once again degraded his office", vowing "it will not be forgotten".

Brianna, 16, was stabbed to death by Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe, both 15 at the time, after luring her to a park in Cheshire on February 11 last year. Jenkinson and Ratcliffe were last week sentenced to life behind bars.

The judge said the "exceptionally brutal" murder had elements of both sadism by Jenkinson and transphobic hate on the part of Ratcliffe, with the judge telling the latter: "Your messages about Brianna were transphobic. You consistently referred to her in a way that was dehumanising."

The exchange between the leaders took place during PMQs in the House of Commons, which Sir Keir had opened by praising the "unwavering bravery" of Esther Ghey which, he said, has "touched us all".

"As a father, I can’t even imagine the pain that she is going through and I am glad that she is with us in the gallery here today,” Sir Keir, who met Esther Ghey on Wednesday, told MPs.

Several minutes later, Mr Sunak and Sir Keir began clashing over the government missing targets to reduce NHS waiting lists.

The Labour leader said of the PM: “He says he stands by his commitments. He once insisted if he missed his promises, these are the words he used: ‘I am the prime minister,’ and then he said: ‘It is on me personally.’

“Today, we learn from his own officials that he is the blocker to any deal to end the doctors’ strikes and every time he is asked, he blames everyone else.

“So, what exactly did he mean when he said it is on him personally if he doesn’t meet his promise?”

Mr Sunak replied: “We are bringing the waiting lists down for the longest waiters and making progress, but it is a bit rich to hear about promises from someone who has broken every single promise he was elected on.

“I think I have counted almost 30 in the last year. Pensions, planning, peerages, public sector pay, tuition fees, childcare, second referendums, defining a woman – although in fairness, that was only 99% of a U-turn".

A shocked Sir Keir hit back, saying: “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.”

The Labour leader added that the role of the prime minister is to "ensure that every single citizen in this country feels safe and respected, it’s a shame that the prime minister doesn’t share that.”

Mr Sunak's press secretary later reiterated that the PM has "always been clear that his thoughts are with Brianna's family", but added that "it was legitimate to point out the number of U-turns" Sir Keir has made.

The spokesperson said: “If you look back on what the prime minister was saying, there was a long list of U-turns that the leader of the opposition had been making.

“I don’t think those U-turns are a joke, it is quite serious changes in public policy. I think it is totally legitimate for the prime minister to point those out.”

Concluding PMQs, Mr Sunak brought up Brianna's murder again - but did not apologise for the remark.

“If I could just say also to Brianna Ghey’s mother who is here, as I said earlier this week, what happened was an unspeakable and shocking tragedy," he told the Commons.

“As I said earlier this week, in the face of that, for her mother to demonstrate the compassion and empathy that she did last weekend, I thought demonstrated the very best of humanity in the face of seeing the very worst of humanity.

“She deserves all our admiration and praise for that.”

This is not the first time the prime minister has attacked Labour over the issue of gender identity policies, which have been a frequent subject of debate in Westminster in recent years.

LGBTQ+ campaigners have condemned some of the language used by politicians to discuss transgender people, with the issue often drawn into the so-called “culture war” by right-wingers.

The Trans+ Solidarity Alliance (TSA) told ITV News the comments were "deeply hurtful" and came just hours after it held the first all trans panel in Parliament the night before.

Marty Davies, of the TSA, said: “Yesterday we made history with the first all trans+ expert panel in Parliament. Today the PM demonstrates why our network, Trans+ Solidarity Alliance, is needed.

"The PM’s comments are deeply hurtful to trans people and to platform them at PMQs with Brianna Ghey’s mum in the gallery is shameful.

"We need more trans+ people in political spaces more often, directly advocating for ourselves and improving our MPs ability to represent their trans+ constituents effectively. We welcome a conversation with the Prime Minister to help further their understanding of trans+ people.”

In his Tory conference speech last year, Mr 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.”

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