Ex-Tory ministers slam Truss and Sunak for ‘pandering to bigots’ in ‘appalling’ leadership race

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak.

Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are “pandering to bigots” in a “shameful” Tory leadership race, former Conservative ministers have said.

Trans rights quickly emerged as one of the key talking points in the Tory leadership race after Boris Johnson announced he was stepping down as prime minister.

Rishi Sunak’s campaign has said he would reverse “trends to erase women via the use of clumsy, gender-neutral language” if he wins the leadership race, while Truss has spoken out against gender-affirming care for minors.

Three former Tory ministers have told PinkNews they are “appalled” by some of the anti-trans talking points put forward by Sunak and Truss.

One former minister described the leadership race as “shameful”, saying Truss and Sunak were “pandering to bigots” and tarnishing the progress made on LGBTQ+ issues under prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.

Rishi Sunak (L) and Liz Truss will battle it out to be the next prime minister.

Rishi Sunak (L) and Liz Truss are battling it out to be the next prime minister. (Peter Summers/David Cliff/NurPhoto)

Another ex minister said: “I’m appalled that all the effort we put into changing the party on LGBT issues over the years has been trashed in a few weeks.”

The third former minister asked: “Is this the same party that David Cameron and Theresa May led?”

Former Conservative ministers and MPs are speaking out after a bitter, divisive leadership race that has seen candidates weaponising trans rights to further their political careers.

Tory leadership hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak have spoken out against ‘woke’ policies

Truss, seen as the most likely winner, has said she will protect “single-sex spaces” if she becomes the UK’s next prime minister.

She has also said she doesn’t agree with under-18s making “irreversible decisions about their own bodies”.

At a separate event, Truss’ campaign director Iain Duncan Smith suggested she would not support a ban on conversion therapy – a piece of legislation she has repeatedly promised to advance – saying such a ban would create a “maze of problems”.

Liz Truss meets Polish Prime Minister at Chancellery in Warsaw, Poland, on April 5, 2022.

Liz Truss at Chancellery in Warsaw, Poland, on 5 April, 2022. (Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto via Getty)

“Liz is strong on all this woke stuff. And I think she will certainly take the same view as I and many others do,” Smith said.

However, a Truss ally cast doubt on Smith’s comments, saying she is “supportive” of a conversion therapy ban.

Rishi Sunak has repeatedly spoken out against trans rights throughout his campaign.

Shortly after launching his leadership bid, an ally told the Mail on Sunday Sunak would ban trans women from competing in women’s sports as part of a “manifesto for women’s rights”.

The same person claimed Sunak would urge schools to be “more careful” on how LGBTQ+ issues are taught in schools.

Speaking at an election hustings in Scotland, Sunak hit out at what he described as “lefty woke culture” that wants to “cancel our women”.

Conservatives have flip-flopped on LGBTQ+ rights

The Conservative Party has been backsliding on LGBTQ+ rights ever since Boris Johnson took over as leader from Theresa May in 2019.

Johnson’s takeover saw the party lurch further to the right, with LGBTQ+ issues ending up on the chopping block.

Rishi Sunak leaves his home

Rishi Sunak, former chancellor of the exchequer, will allegedly launch a ‘manifesto for women’s rights’. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

Since then, the government has scrapped plans to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) – efforts to introduce self-identification for trans people were left in tatters, with Truss opting instead to digitise the process and reduce the fee.

The government has also faced criticism for flip-flopping on conversion therapy. Truss, as minister for women and equalities, was responsible for banning the discredited practice, but legislation has been kicked down the road repeatedly since it was first promised under Theresa May’s leadership.

Controversially, Downing Street later U-turned on the policy, with Johnson announcing the practice – which seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity – would only be banned for gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

The decision to push ahead with a trans-exclusionary ban was widely condemned by LGBTQ+ groups, while Truss was reportedly “blindsided” by the last-minute move.

Theresa May’s government had committed to banning conversion therapy and to gender recognition reform in the 2018 LGBT Action Plan, but the bulk of that policy document was left on the cutting room floor when Johnson took over.

This is despite Johnson telling PinkNews his government would “remain committed” to the LGBT Action Plan.

That shift symbolised a stark change in direction for the Conservative Party – the Tories were instrumental in introducing same-sex marriage under David Cameron’s leadership less than a decade ago.

Prior to May’s departure, there was some hope that the government would introduce self-identification for trans people. The move would have de-medicalised the process and made it easier for trans people to have their gender legally recognised.

Speaking to PinkNews in June, May said Britain was at risk of “sliding back” on LGBTQ+ rights if the government failed to introduce a fully-inclusive conversion therapy ban, adding that the country had “moved on”.

“I don’t want to see the government sliding back. I think much has been achieved over the last 50 years since the first Pride march, but there is more to do.”