Penny Mordaunt hits back at ‘toxic smears’ behind trans self-ID row

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Penny Mordaunt on the BBC’s Sunday Morning  (BBC)
Penny Mordaunt on the BBC’s Sunday Morning (BBC)

Tory leadership contender Penny Mordaunt has dismissed fresh claims about her views on transgender issues as “smears” and “toxic politics”.

The international trade minister denied reports that she had pushed through a policy to end the requirement for trans people to obtain a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria before they could legally change gender when she was equalities minister in Theresa May’s government.

Ms Mordaunt told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme: “This has been rebutted many times. We all know what is going on. This is the type of toxic politics people want to get away from.

“We did a consultation. We asked healthcare professionals what they thought about the situation. That is the section I looked after. I managed that consultation. We didn’t actually on my shift produce a policy.

“There is a number of smears going on in the papers. My colleagues are very angry and upset that this is how the leadership contest is being dragged down.”

In the first televised debate on Friday, former equalities minister Kemi Badenoch and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss - who also has responsibility for equality issues - claimed Mordaunt had backed a push for self-ID for those who wish to transition.

They said that together they had reversed the policy.

Mordaunt strongly challenged the claims. She said that while she had ordered a review of the Gender Recognition Act, she was not in favour of self-identification and would “not have divorced it from healthcare”.

However, The Sunday Times said it had seen government papers which appeared to suggest she was in favour of removing at least one element of the medical process required for transgender people to legally transition.

It said another paper from February 2020 confirmed that the Government’s support for self-identification ended after she was replaced as the minister in charge.

In response, a spokesman for her campaign said the papers seen by The Sunday Times made clear that all the ministers involved at the time had been in favour of maintaining medical involvement in the process.

“The fact that so much of this contest has been distracted by side issues instead of the cost-of-living crisis impacting millions of people, is a major disappointment,” the spokesman said.

“Arguing about policy is one thing, but questioning Penny’s values and integrity must be challenged. To be clear, on the issue of self ID, leaked documents prove that all ministers in the department wanted to maintain medical involvement, including Penny. Other ministers can back this up.”

Mordaunt was backed by Baroness Williams, who was junior equalities minister at the time, and said the accounts of events given at the hustings and in the media were “completely incorrect”.

“As minister for equalities in the department under both Penny Mordaunt and Amber Rudd I saw first hand that the position stated was absolutely not Penny Mordaunt’s and completely refute the allegations made by other candidates about the self ID debate,” she said in a statement.

“Having sat in the Equalities Office for many years, I am shocked to see such incorrect reporting and briefings by our colleagues and would question the motives of those seeking to do so.”

The Sunday Times published details of a note from a senior civil servant sent in July 2019 to Mordaunt and other senior officials in the Government Equalities Office.

At the time, Mordaunt was defence secretary but also had responsibility for women’s and equalities issues.

The note stated: “Currently, applicants are required to provide two medical reports: a diagnosis of gender dysphoria (which we are now intending to remove) and a report detailing any medical treatment received.

“There is no requirement to have undergone any medical treatment as part of transitioning, nor does the report’s contents have any bearing on the panel’s decision, so it is unclear what practical value this current report has in the process.

“However, this element of the process goes to the heart of whether we have a system that is essentially self-identification, or whether there are external checks in place.”

The note went on to state that “you have all indicated you would like some form of medical requirement to remain part of the process — particularly some form of assessment that the applicant is of ‘sound mind’ as they make their application to change their gender.

“This could be from a GP, a registered counsellor or a therapist. This would help safeguard vulnerable individuals, and would also provide a defence against potential vexatious applications.”

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