Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch denies Tories are trying to roll back trans rights

Kemi Badenoch walking through a street in London.

UK women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has denied the Tory government is rolling back trans rights.

The minister was questioned about the decision to block Scotland’s gender recognition reforms and the government’s commitment to banning conversion therapy at a Women and Equalities Committee meeting on Wednesday (1 March). 

Badenoch was also asked about her plan to revise the list of countries the UK will accept Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs) from. The equalities office announced the review in January, claiming the process in some territories is not “rigorous” enough, but the list has not yet been updated.

When asked when the revised list would be published, Badenoch pushed back against suggestions that Rishi Sunak’s Tory government is making life worse for the trans community.

“The last thing we want to do is alarm people or give the impression which many opponents of the government and activists want to give which is that we’re rolling back trans rights. What we are doing is maintaining the status quo,” Badenoch said.

Badenoch did not give a timeline for an updated list of countries that are considered to live up to “UK standards” on gender recognition, but said the government would strive to get it “absolutely right”.

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The minister’s comments came in the middle of a grilling on her handling of the fiasco surrounding gender recognition reform in Scotland. 

Kemi Badenoch
Kemi Badenoch. (Getty)

The Scottish parliament passed its Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) reform bill in December, but the UK government blocked it just weeks later under Section 35 of the Scotland Act.

Some have said the unprecedented move could trigger a constitutional crisis, while the Scottish government has threatened to take legal action.

Scottish social justice secretary Shona Robison later said they were blindsided by the Tories’ decision to block the bill, claiming no warning was issued by Badenoch at a “hastily arranged” meeting in December.

When asked what efforts the government made to avoid triggering Section 35, Badenoch said they had “conversations with Scottish ministers”, but insisted the “template of interaction when bills are going through is that we in Westminster don’t interfere”.

Badenoch said there was “limited scope” for her government to warn the Scottish government that its bill would be blocked by Westminster.

“We believe in devolution and we could see there were very clear attempts from within the Scottish Parliament across all parties to try and look at issues that were raised about the bill and how it would impact the general UK settlement on the Gender Recognition Act and that should have been sufficient,” Badenoch told the committee.

A photo of Kemi Badenoch speaking on day two of the annual Conservative Party conference on October 3, 2022.
Kemi Badenoch has faced criticism for her LGBTQ+ policies. (Leon Neal/Getty)

“We saw many amendments which would have been quite helpful all rejected”, she said, adding that she and the secretary of state for Scotland “expressed concern with policy in general terms” in meetings with their Scottish counterparts.

However, she said it was ultimately the Scottish government’s responsibility to avoid the UK government blocking bills under Section 35. 

When asked what could be done to move forward, Badenoch said the Scottish government could “amend” its bill, adding that “debate around this issue has been extensive enough that they will now what needs to be done”.

Badenoch also denied the government’s decision to block the bill impacted the Scottish government’s ability to govern on LGBTQ+ issues. 

“This was quite a significant intervention but it’s been clear since that intervention that public opinion is on the side of the UK government, not the Scottish government,” Badenoch said.

When asked how her office was measuring support, she said it was “pretty obvious” from surveys and from “reactions” in the SNP leadership race that public opinion was on the side of the UK government. 

“…It is very evident that public opinion is on the side of the UK government and I think it will become more evident whether we see a challenge to the section 35 or not,” she said.

Badenoch also addressed the government’s much-delayed conversion therapy ban, refusing to give a date for when a draft will be published.

Scotland’s GRR bill remains in limbo after the UK government stopped it from going for royal assent. 

The Scottish government immediately threatened legal action, however no such action has been announced.

Since then, SNP leader and first minister Nicola Sturgeon has resigned, triggering a leadership contest which has largely devolved into debates about same-sex marriage and trans rights.