Owen Jones slams Ann Widdecombe after her attack on Theresa May’s trans reform plan

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An unlikely alliance has formed between Prime Minister Theresa May and left-wing columnist Owen Jones.

The unexpected partnership follows an attack by former Conservative minister Ann Widdecombe on the government’s plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act.

The planned changes, first trailed by the PM in PinkNews ahead of the General Election, aim to make the transition process easier for transgender people in the UK.

On Thursday’s edition of ITV’s After The News, host Nick Ferrari sat down with Widdecombe and Jones to discuss Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech at the PinkNews Awards.

At Wednesday’s PinkNews awards, the Prime Minister said: “We’ve set out plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act, streamlining and de-medicalising the process for changing gender, because being trans is not an illness and it shouldn’t be treated as such.”

Jones, who is highly active in campaigns to unseat Conservative MPs in marginal seats, supported the Prime Minister’s comments and gave a clear endorsement of her speech.

Ferrari initially asked Jones why the Prime Minister, who is understandably very busy, would take the time to discuss the rights of transgender people

Jones responded that the fight for trans rights was “the great civil liberties crusade of our time”.

Related: Sorry, but you’re probably wrong about gender.

Jones added: “The reality is we live in a country where half of all young trans people have tried to kill themselves, where the vast majority of trans people have acute mental distress.

“The current process for changing gender is very degrading and difficult for those people who are already suffering.”

He continued: “It’s not often I support Theresa May, given the amount of LGBT refugees who’ve frankly suffered under her regime as Home Secretary, but she’s absolutely right what she said there.

“This is not a mental illness, this is about civil liberties, it’s about granting equality.”

Owen Jones
(Photo: After The News, ITV)

In response, Widdecombe gave a tense reply, criticising the ability of transgender people to determine their own gender.

She said: “I don’t think you can have the sort of process which she envisages, which was set out by Justine Greening, a very simple process whereby you just say ‘I’m a man or a woman’.

“If you do that you get men in women’s prisons or men in women’s refuges.”

The former shadow Home Secretary continued: “I think also you can confuse the young at that point because they think it’s a simple matter.”

Ann Widdecombe
(Photo: After The News, ITV)

The process under current legislation actually already partially operates under a system of self-determination.

A trans person is able to change their name and their gender marker (the M or F) on several documents without any medical intervention.

To change their legal gender – the gender as recognised by the state which appears on birth certificates – there is a requirement for a trans person to be diagnosed with either gender dysphoria or ‘transsexualism’, and to have lived in their new gender for two years.

The process to change a marriage certificate is slightly more complicated.

The Prime Minister and government seek to remove the diagnosis requirement. There is currently no requirement for either hormones or gender reassignment surgery.

Jones provided a constant rebuttal throughout Widdecombe’s reflection on the Prime Minster’s speech.

He said: “The reality is that trans women themselves are on the receiving end of huge threats and violence.

“If you sending trans women to men’s toilets they will be at risk of huge violence and what we’re talking about is giving equality to people.”

Widdecombe’s responded to Jones’s comments by once again criticising the ability to self-determine gender, saying: “This is a hugely serious issue for those people who are genuinely affected.

“It cannot be trivialised by simply saying ‘Everybody choose your own gender’, that’s not what it’s about.”

Nick Ferrari, Ann Widdecombe and Owen Jones
Nick Ferrari, Ann Widdecombe and Owen Jones (Photo: After The News, ITV)

In response to the government’s plan to de-medicalise the Gender Recognition Act, Widdecombe criticised the removal, insisting on the need for medical involvement in the transition process.

“Of course there’s a huge medical input, because actually at the end of it they go through a lot of medical procedures those who are deadly serious about becoming a member – well they already think they are – but about recognisable as a member of the opposite sex,” she said.

As there is no legal requirement for medical intervention or gender reassignment surgery, many transgender people do not medically transition and have no contact with doctors after their legally required diagnosis.

Widdecombe concluded her criticism by saying: “I think this is very very bad news for a lot of confused young people and if I were the Prime Minister I would think rather long and hard about this.”

Watch the full exchange here: