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Artillery Row

Could Rishi be found guilty of conversion therapy?

It’s time for some common sense to enter the conversation

The PM is said to be thinking again about his plans for a “conversion therapy” ban. But given his recent comments on transgenderism, aren’t the flaws in a new law abundantly clear?

Ten years ago, declaring “a man is a man, and a woman is a woman” would have been unremarkable. How times have changed.

Rishi Sunak told the Conservative Party conference that “we shouldn’t get bullied into believing that people can be any sex they want to be, they can’t”.

To a thunderous round of applause, the PM added: “A man is a man, and a woman is a woman; that’s just common sense.”

He might not have said anything that most people weren’t all already thinking, but predictably Rishi’s comments were met with extraordinary opposition from a vocal few.

Transgender commentator India Willoughby offered a confused monologue on social media: “What I’ve just heard from Rishi Sunak is absolutely outrageous. There is no depths that this Government will go in terms of putting people in danger and inciting threats to their lives (sic).”

Later, India told a news outlet that “what we’re seeing at the moment is effectively state sanctioned persecution… trans people are the 2023 equivalent of the Jews in 1930s Germany”.

Those were not the only far flung accusations against Sunak. Journalist Kay Burley wrongly claimed on Sky News that the PM had broken the law, since the Equality Act protects from discrimination those who have undergone gender reassignment.

The leader of the UK’s ‘Ban Conversion Therapy’ coalition, Jayne Ozanne, claimed Sunak’s comments amounted to “an abuse of office, an abuse of power & an abuse of the trust so many have put in him”.

It may be highly-exaggerated outrage, but these activists think it acceptable to accuse someone of horrendous criminal activity for merely disagreeing with their entirely illogical viewpoint.

Rishi is far from the first to be met with these false charges. In some ways he has come off rather lightly. He appears to have escaped the accusation of conversion therapy, but perhaps only narrowly.

Jayne Ozanne’s campaign group claims that conversion therapy includes any “interventions that seek to change, “cure”, or suppress the sexual orientation and/or gender identity of a person”. It can take place in any setting and includes even “casual conversation”.

Sunak’s speech alone probably doesn’t meet the campaign’s test, but had his comments been “directed at an individual” he would likely be in hot water.

If he articulated the same sentiment to a transgender relative or friend — that they cannot “be any sex they want to be” — there is no doubt he would be guilty of ‘conversion therapy’ in the eyes of many trans activists.

It would have been a clear attempt to “suppress” their gender identity, they would say. The Party line, in oddly Orwellian fashion, seems to be that Mr Sunak was referring to sex, not gender. However, under the 2021 proposals on conversion therapy, advanced by Boris Johnson’s Government, that would make no difference and provide no defence.

This is one of the big dangers of ideologically-driven policy: what sounds on the surface like a sensible idea, has in reality a plethora of dangerous consequences. A “conversion therapy” ban is supposed to prevent outrageous abuse — sensible, you would think — but the truth is that abuse is already outlawed and a new law could instead capture everyday speech and ordinary beliefs.

The Prime Minister must be aware of these risks. Many groups have explained the problems.

Would he bring in a law that could capture even his own viewpoint? It’s an important question. The press gives the impression he is deeply conflicted. He must surely know that a ‘conversion therapy’ law is unnecessary and unworkable. He should publicly admit it.

At its own conference, Labour recommitted itself to the proposals albeit with precious little detail. It says it will give the campaigners what they are asking for. But if Sunak could fall foul, there would surely be Labour MPs at risk too.

They might not like to hear it from Rishi, but if the police could end up knocking on their door over a well-meaning conversation with a dearly-loved family member, they ought to listen.

Too many politicians have been willing to ignore the reality of the dangers of a new law on “conversion therapy”. It’s time for some common sense to enter the conversation.

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