Boris Johnson has changed the government’s policy on LGBT+ conversion therapy twice within a matter of hours after a furious backlash over ditching plans for a ban.
On Thursday night, a government spokesman had earlier confirmed that the administration was abandoning plans and instead looking at ways of preventing the practice through existing law and “other non-legislative measures”.
It followed the leak of a Downing Street briefing paper seen by ITV News which said “the PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation” to stop conversion therapy – with the cost of living crisis and war in Ukraine cited as reasons to “rationalise our legislative programme”.
However within hours of the announcement, the journalist who broke the original story quoted a senior government source as saying legislation would be included in the Queen’s Speech in May.
ITV News UK editor Paul Brand tweeted that the prime minister had “changed his mind” after seeing the reaction to the earlier announcement. He said the legislation would cover “only gay conversion therapy, not trans”. The BBC also reported a government source confirming the limited u-turn.
The PA news agency said there was no immediate official response from Downing Street, although there was no attempt to suggest the latest report was incorrect.
If confirmed, it means the government is ditching plans for a ban on trans conversion therapy – a position that arguably fits more squarely with its “red meat” strategy to appeal to traditional Conservative voters.
In response, veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell said the government is now “pandering to transphobes”.
The first u-turn came after equalities minister Mike Freer told MPs on Wednesday that the government was “wholly committed” to legislation.
Conversion therapy attempts to change or suppress someone’s sexuality or gender identity and is already outlawed in a number of other countries.
The government announced it would be bringing forward legislation in last year’s Queen’s Speech after ministers originally promised a new law in 2018.
Even Conservative MPs had joined the earlier backlash. Tory MP Dehenna Davison said: “This decision is fundamentally wrong, and needs to be reversed immediately. As well as breaking an explicit promise, this is a matter of basic decency. Being gay is not something that needs curing.”
Actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry tweeted: “Just when I thought my contempt for this disgusting government couldn’t sink lower. A curse upon the whole lying, stinking lot of them.”