Rishi Sunak refuses to apologise to Brianna Ghey's family over 'legitimate' trans jibe at PMQs

The PM doubled down on his 'absolutely legitimate' trans remark made in an attack on Sir Keir Starmer and said to link it to the murder of trans teenager Brianna Ghey was 'sad and wrong', ITV News Political Correspondent Harry Horton reports

Words by Westminster Producer, Elisa Menendez

Rishi Sunak has refused to apologise to Brianna Ghey's family over the trans jibe he made during Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons on Wednesday.

The prime minister said it was “sad and wrong” to link his attack on Labour's stance on "defining a woman" to Brianna’s case.

Brianna’s father, Peter Spooner, told ITV News Mr Sunak should say sorry for the “degrading” and “dehumanising” remark.

Esther Ghey, the mother of Brianna, a trans teenager who was murdered, was visiting Parliament when Mr Sunak aimed the jibe at Sir Keir Starmer. MPs had been told just moments before that she was expected to be watching PMQs from the public gallery.

Replying to calls to apologise to Brianna's family, Mr Sunak said on Thursday: “Like everyone, I was completely shocked by Brianna’s case. To have your child taken from you in such awful circumstances is almost impossible to come to terms with, and for Brianna’s mum to talk with such empathy and compassion about that, I thought, was inspiring and it showed the very best of humanity.

“I’ve nothing but the most heartfelt sympathy for her entire family and friends.

“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, and it demonstrates the worst of politics.”

16-year-old Brianna's parents described her as 'funny, witty and fearless'.

Pressed further on whether he will honour the apology Brianna's father has asked for, Mr Sunak reiterated his point that it was "legitimate" to point out the leader of the opposition's U-turns.

But MPs and campaigners continue to urge the PM to say sorry. Leading LGBTQ+ charity, Stonewall, said for the second day in a row that Mr Sunak "must apologise", after yesterday saying it was "cheap, callous and crass" to "use trans people as a punchline in front of the grieving mother of a murdered trans child".

The PM's official spokesman later rejected the suggestion Mr Sunak has repeatedly used transgender people as a punchline or a joke.

“I wouldn’t accept that he does that," said the spokesman. "I think, as you can see from the exchange yesterday and in previous exchanges, he’s obviously made political points in relation to the opposition".

He added that "the prime minister has always been clear that everyone should be free to live happy lives, everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. That’s the values that he holds, those are British values".

Transgender activist, Charlie Craggs, told ITV News: "I've seen first-hand how comments that are made in the media, in the Houses of Parliament, affect how people like me are treated in real life - in the same way that any marginalised group is affected by what's said in the media and politics."

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 court heard transphobia played a part in her "exceptionally brutal" murder, with the judge telling Ratcliffe: "Your messages about Brianna were transphobic. You consistently referred to her in a way that was dehumanising."

Mr Sunak's refusal to apologise comes after Briana's father, Mr 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."

Eather Ghey said in a post today on her campaign page, Peace & Mind UK, that she didn't want to comment and instead said her focus is on creating a "more understanding, peaceful, and stronger society for everyone" in memory of her daughter.

"I don't wish to comment on reports of wording or comments recently made. My focus is on creating a positive change and a lasting legacy for Brianna," she wrote.

The exchange between the leaders took place during PMQs, 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 Ms Ghey on Wednesday, told MPs.

Brianna with her mum; Esther Ghey Credit: Family handout

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.”

Just hours before Mr Sunak refused to apologise, Commons leader Penny Mordaunt this morning said the PM "is a good and caring man", adding that: "I am sure that he has reflected on things and I understand he will say something later today".

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Shadow Commons leader Lucy Powell had earlier described the prime minister's remarks as a “new low”, saying he "tried to score cheap political points at the expense of trans people" which many MPs found "deeply offensive and distasteful, including many members opposite".

The Labour MP hit out at Equalities Secretary Kemi Badenoch for accusing Labour of "weaponising" LGBTQ+ issues, adding in a post on X: "It was shameful of Starmer to link his own inability to be clear on the matter of sex and gender directly to her grief."

Ms Powell told MPs: "The prime minister has been given plenty of opportunity to apologise to Esther Ghey and her family, and has refused. And the equalities secretary, whose job it is to stand up for the marginalised, doubled down and dismissed the cries of the family.

“The leader has a better record than many in her party on this issue and I know she will be appalled too, so will she take this opportunity to apologise on the prime minister’s behalf and call out using minorities as a political punchbag?”

Ms Mordaunt said the PM should reflect on his actions - as should Sir Keir.

The Conservative MP said: “Whatever the rough and tumble of this place, whatever the pressures and mistakes that are made in the heat of political combat, we owe it to the people who sent us here to strive every day to make them proud of us and this place.

“That is not just about Mr and Mrs Ghey that he should reflect on, but I am sure he is also reflecting about people who are trans, or who have trans loved ones and family, some of whom sit on these green benches."

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