Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has praised the “courage” of the SNP’s Joanna Cherry.
Rees-Mogg – a cabinet minister and close ally of Boris Johnson – backed Cherry’s “right to be heard” after the SNP politician gave a speech in the House of Commons arguing for the right to “debate” the “ideology that any man can self-identify as a woman”.
Cherry, a ‘gender-critical’ Scottish nationalist who has been an outspoken opponent of transgender rights reforms, was let go from her role as the SNP’s home affairs and justice spokesperson in a reshuffle on Monday (1 February).
Her sacking followed a public spat with Out for Indy, the party’s official LGBT+ wing, which began when Cherry accused Twitter of “hateful conduct” for banning family law barrister Sarah Phillimore, who has previously invoked the Holocaust in posts criticising trans rights.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday (4 February), Cherry, who had to contact the police this week after receiving a “vicious threat” from a man in the wake of her sacking, said: “Across our society, and particularly in universities and the third sector, women and some men are losing their jobs, having their positions undermined and their personal safety put in jeopardy simply for questioning the ideology that any man can self-identify as a woman, and for speaking up for women’s sex-based rights under the Equality Act.
“Does the leader of the house agree with me that all democrats should condemn such attacks on free speech, and can we have a debate about free speech and the importance of sex as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act?”
An SNP spokesperson clarified in a statement that Cherry was sacked due to “unacceptable behaviour” which “did not meet the standards expected of a front bench spokesperson – not because of the views she holds”.
Rees-Mogg said he was “sorry” that Cherry was no longer on the SNP front bench, and echoed the opinion that Cherry had been “one of the most intelligent and careful scrutinisers of government”.
He added: “Free speech is fundamental, and it is disgraceful that [Cherry] received threats for her views and for her removal from office, to the extent that the police had to be involved.
“Every member of this house should feel safe in whatever they say, as long as it is within the law and it is not effectively threatening violence.”
He added: “It is outrageous that [Cherry] should have been placed in this position.
“And can I commit to supporting freedom of speech? Absolutely, I can. This is what this place exists for, that’s what underpins our democracy.
“And much though I disagree with her on so many things, may I commend her courage in standing up for freedom of speech and putting forward her views clearly in a difficult and sensitive area, but one where she has a right to be heard.”
Increasingly hostile debate about trans rights by politicians from all parties, accompanied by anti-trans commentary in the media, has been matched by a real-life increase in transphobic violence, with a recent report from LGBT+ anti-violence charity Galop finding that four in five trans people in the UK were the victim of a hate crime in the last year.
Between 2014-15 and 2019-20, transphobic offences are shown to have quadrupled, representing a 354 per cent increase. More than half of transgender people in the UK now feel less able to go outside and two-thirds say they cannot use public bathrooms as a result of transphobia.