Sir Keir Starmer today demanded Rishi Sunak ‘do the right thing’ and apologise ‘swiftly’ for his transgender joke at Prime Minister’s Questions.
The Labour leader called on his Tory rival to heed a call by Peter Spooner – the father of murdered trans teen Brianna Ghey – to express regret for his remarks.
Mr Sunak prompted a furious row in the House of Commons on Wednesday when he swiped at Sir Keir’s position on gender rights in their weekly exchanges.
The PM made the comments during a session when Brianna’s mother, Esther Ghey, was in the Commons chamber.
Sir Keir immediately reacted with anger towards the PM, but Mr Sunak has since refused to apologise to Brianna’s family.
In a post on her ‘Peace & Mind UK’ campaign Facebook page this afternoon, Esther declined to get involved and said her ‘focus is on creating a positive change and a lasting legacy for Brianna’.
Sir Keir Starmer today demanded Rishi Sunak – pictured on a visit to a bakery in Hayle, Cornwall – ‘do the right thing’ and apologise ‘swiftly’ for his transgender joke at PMQs
The Labour leader called on his Tory rival to heed a call by Peter Spooner – the father of murdered trans teen Brianna Ghey – to express regret for his remarks
In a post on her ‘Peace & Mind UK’ campaign Facebook page, Brianna’s mother Esther Ghey declined to get involved in the row
Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe were both 15 when they killed Brianna, 16, with a hunting knife on February 11 last year
During the PMQs exchanges yesterday, Mr Sunak accused Sir Keir of being incapable of ‘defining a woman’ in an attack on Labour U-turns.
The PM’s comment prompted fierce criticism, with Sir Keir telling Mr Sunak: ‘Of all the weeks to say that, when Brianna’s mother is in this chamber. Shame.’
Last night, Mr Spooner demanded an apology from Mr Sunak for the ‘dehumanising’ and ‘degrading’ jibe.
But the PM this morning said it was ‘sad and wrong’ to link his remarks to Brianna’s case, as he stressed he had ‘nothing but the most heartfelt sympathy’ for the murdered teen’s family.
Speaking to reporters this afternoon, Sir Keir said: ‘This is nothing to do with me. This is Brianna’s father.
‘They’ve had their child murdered and he has put his words out about what the PM said and it’s not good enough for the PM’s team to go out today and effectively say to Brianna’s father ‘you didn’t understand what Rishi was saying’.
‘He did understand. He’s given his reaction. The right thing to do is to apologise as swiftly as possible – not just reflect but apologise. This is a grieving father.’
Cabinet ministers have defended the PM over the remarks, insisting they were not directly connected to Brianna’s case.
Kemi Badenoch accused Labour of trying to ‘weaponise’ the exchange in its criticism.
But, asked about the Business Secretary’s claim, Sir Keir said: ‘She’s completely and utterly wrong.
‘The idea that I’m responsible for Rishi Sunak’s comments is through the looking glass.’
Brianna’s mother Esther had written on her campaign Facebook page earlier: ‘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.
‘Through Peace & Mind, we want to improve lives by empowering people, giving them the tools they need to build mental resilience, empathy, and self-compassion through mindfulness.
‘In developing these skills, I hope that we can create a more understanding, peaceful, and stronger society for everyone.’
It came after Mr Sunak insisted it was ‘entirely legitimate’ to ridicule Sir Keir’s past claim that some women have penises, moments after being told that the Brianna’s mother was watching the PMQs session from the Commons gallery.
Asked this morning if he would apologise, the PM told reporters in Cornwall: ‘If you look at what I said, I was very clear, talking about Keir Starmer’s proven track record of U-turns on major policies because he doesn’t have a plan.
‘A point only proven by today’s reports that the Labour Party and Keir Starmer are apparently planning to reverse on their signature economic green spending policy.
‘That just demonstrates the point I was making. He’s someone who has just consistently changed his mind on a whole range of major things.
‘I think that is an absolutely legitimate thing to point out and it demonstrates that he doesn’t have a plan for the country.’
Mr Sunak said he had ‘nothing but the most heartfelt sympathy’ for Brianna’s family and friends, but it was ‘sad and wrong’ to link his remarks to the case
Sir Keir met Esther Ghey in the House of Commons after the PMQs row on Wednesday
Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch – the favourite to become the next Tory leader – weighed in to defend the PM
The PM jibed about the Labour leader’s view that not all women have penises as they clashed in the Commons
Mr Sunak added: ‘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.’
In a round of interviews this morning, policing minister Chris Philp said Mr Sunak was keen to meet Brianna’s family, although nothing has been confirmed.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The PM made no reference at all to any individual trans people.
‘It was Keir Starmer who introduced that. The PM was making a point about Labour’s very numerous flip-flops.’
Esther has been invited to a meeting with the PM, though it has not yet been confirmed whether or when it will take place.
Emma Mills, Brianna’s headteacher at Birchwood High School, who accompanied Esther to Parliament on Wednesday, told BBC Breakfast: ‘We came in late into the gallery and missed what was said, and I don’t think she’s really had time to look at the context and what exactly was said, and she wants a little bit of time to be able to do that today.
‘Yesterday, while we were there, we were just so focused on the mindfulness debate that we were going to and making sure that moves forward in a positive way. That wasn’t something we really discussed yesterday.’
During the PMQs exchanges, Sir Keir noted that Esther was watching the session, as he paid tribute after her daughter’s killers were jailed for a crime that a court heard was partly fuelled by transphobia.
Seconds later Mr Sunak jibed about the Labour leader’s view that not all women have penises – a common attack he has used in previous sessions of the Wednesday showpiece.
Although Esther had not yet taken her seat in the public gallery, 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.’
Mr Spooner told Sky News last night: ‘As the Prime Minister for our country to come out with degrading comments like he did, regardless of them being in relation to discussions in Parliament, they are absolutely 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.’
As the row over Mr Sunak’s comments spilled out in the hours after PMQs, No10 refused six times to apologise for the remarks, before Cabinet minister Kemi Badenoch – the favourite to become the next Tory leader – weighed in to defend the PM.
‘Every murder is a tragedy. None should be trivialised by political point-scoring. As a mother, I can imagine the trauma that Esther Ghey has endured,’ the women and equalities minister wrote on the X social media site.
‘It was shameful of Starmer to link his own inability to be clear on the matter of sex and gender directly to her grief.
‘As Minister for Women and Equalities I’ve done all I can to ensure we have take the heat out of the debate on LGBT issues while being clear about our beliefs and principles. Keir Starmer’s behaviour today shows Labour are happy to weaponise this issue when it suits them.’
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt also defended the PM, telling the BBC he had been making a point ‘that we have a Labour party that cannot make their mind up about big issues of the day’.
Brianna’s father Peter Spooner demanded an apology over the ‘degrading’ comments last night
Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt suggested Mr Sunak should ‘reflect on things’
But Ms Mordaunt said today – before the PM’s words from Cornwall aired: ‘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.
‘The PM is a good and caring man. I am sure that he has reflected on things and I understand he will say something later today, or perhaps even during this session.
‘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.
‘I hope the leader of the Opposition will also reflect on his actions too.’
Tory former minister Dehenna Davison said it was ‘disappointing’ to ‘hear jokes being made at the trans community’s expense’.
The Bishop Auckland MP said in a post on X, formerly Twitter: ‘Wasn’t in Parliament today thanks to a migraine attack so have just caught up on PMQs.
‘The debate around trans issues often gets inflamed at the fringes. As politicians, it’s our job to take the heat out of such debates and focus on finding sensible ways forward, whilst ensuring those involved are treated with respect.
‘Given some of the terrible incidences of transphobia we have seen lately, this need for respect feels more crucial than ever.
‘That’s why it was disappointing to hear jokes being made at the trans community’s expense. Our words in the House resonate right across our society, and we all need to remember that.’