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British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Alamy Stock Photo
Under fire

Brianna Ghey's father calls on Sunak to apologise for 'degrading' transgender remark during PMQs

Cries of “shame” could be heard from opposition MPs after Sunak joked about Keir Starmer’s position on the issue.


THE FATHER OF Brianna Ghey has called on British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to apologise after he made a “dehumanising” transgender joke in the House of Commons while Brianna’s mother visited the UK Parliament.

Peter Spooner said he was “shocked” by the remark made during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), in which Sunak accused Labour leader Keir Starmer of having difficulty in “defining a woman”.

The remarks have prompted an immediate backlash, but Sunak has refused to apologise, with Downing Street later insisting the comments were “totally legitimate” and denying they were transphobic.

Brianna Ghey, a 16-year-old teenage girl who was transgender, was murdered in England last year. 

Spooner told Sky News: “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,” he said.

Starmer began his first question of PMQs by saying that Brianna mother, Esther, was watching the session.

“This week the unwavering bravery of Brianna Ghey’s mother Esther 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,” he said.

Later, responding to a question from Starmer on the government’s failure to tackle hospital waiting lists in the UK, Sunak said: “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. The list goes on, but the theme is the same: it is empty words, broken promises and absolutely no plan.”


Starmer, who looked visibly angry, replied: “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.”

He added: “I think 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.”

Starmer later met with Esther Ghey in the House of Commons. 

Sunak ignored a call from Labour MP Liz Twist to apologise to Esther Ghey “for his insensitive comment” during PMQs. There were shouts of “apologise” and “shame” from opposition backbenchers in the chamber. 

At the end of PMQs, Sunak praised Esther Ghey, saying: “If I could just say also to Brianna Ghey’s mother who is here, as I said earlier this week, what happened was an unspeakable and shocking tragedy.

“As I said earlier this week, in the face of that, for her mother to demonstrate the compassion and empathy that she did last weekend, I thought demonstrated the very best of humanity in the face of seeing the very worst of humanity. She deserves all our admiration and praise for that.”

Downing Street has declined to apologise for Sunak’s remark, saying it was part of a “legitimate” criticism of Labour.

“If you look back on what the Prime Minister was saying, there was a long list of u-turns that the leader of the opposition had been making,” a spokesperson said. 

“I don’t think those u-turns are a joke, it is quite serious changes in public policy. I think it is totally legitimate for the Prime Minister to point those out.”


Sunak faced some criticism even from within his party ranks over the jibe.

Former Tory business minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, said it was “careless” and “very ill-judged” for him to use the joke “in that context”, but also accused critics of having “weaponised” it.

“I just think what an ugly situation all around, because there is a dead child here who’s been murdered in the most appalling circumstances,” she told Times Radio.

“And for that to be the exchanges in the in the chamber of the House of Commons, it’s just not my proudest moment to be a Member of Parliament I must say.”

Former junior minister Dehenna Davison, in a post on X, formerly Twitter, said it was “disappointing to hear jokes being made at the trans community’s expense” and warned that “our words in the House resonate right across our society”.

Stonewall, a UK LGBTQ+ charity, has called on Sunak to issue an apology and to reflect on how careless words “can and do result in harm”. 

“For the Prime Minister to use trans people as a punchline, in front of the grieving mother of a murdered trans child, was cheap, callous and crass,” the charity said in a statement. 

Former SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has branded Sunak’s remark “truly terrible”, but claimed that had Brianna’s mother not been present in the Commons, “no-one (including Keir Starmer) would have batted an eyelid”. 

“It’s not good enough to stand against transphobia only when the mother of a murdered trans girl might be listening. It needs to be done all of the time,” she said. 

Last week, teenagers Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe were each given a life sentence at Manchester Crown Court for the murder of Brianna.

The killers, both 15 at the time, had been found guilty of the “disturbing” plan to murder the 16-year-old in a “frenzied and ferocious” knife attack.

The trial heard that Jenkinson had watched videos of torture and murder online and researched methods used by serial killers.

Esther Ghey is now campaigning for under-16s to be limited to smartphones with built-in restrictions and for any searches for inappropriate material to be automatically flagged to parents.

With reporting from Press Association