Sunak and Starmer commit to protecting single-sex spaces and championing women

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer have both committed to protecting women’s rights to single-sex spaces, regardless of whether someone has a gender recognition certificate.

The leaders were questioned on the issue during the BBC head-to-head debate on Wednesday, with Labour leader Sir Keir receiving the loudest applause of the evening for his response.

Asked if he would protect women’s rights to single-sex spaces, Prime Minister Mr Sunak said: “Yes, unequivocally yes. And we will do that by changing the law, so that the old Equalities Act recognises that sex means biological sex.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a televised debate
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during the debate in Nottingham (Phil Noble/PA)

The Labour leader then said “yes” because it is “very important” to protect women-only spaces, when asked the same question.

He added: “What I will also say is that I do recognise that there are a small number of people who are born into a gender that they don’t identify with, and I will treat them, as I treat all human beings, with dignity and respect.”

Sir Keir received applause and whoops from the audience, before continuing: “I’ll tell you for why, because if you don’t, we end up with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom standing in Parliament making an anti-trans joke in front of the mother of a murdered trans teenager.”

This refers to an incident in February this year where Mr Sunak made a trans jibe in the Commons, while the family of Brianna Ghey were visiting Parliament.

Mr Sunak replied: “That’s not what I did, I was pointing out that you’ve changed your mind on this question multiple times.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during a televised debate
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (Phil Noble/PA)

Following the debate, JK Rowling accused Sir Keir of not standing with “vulnerable women”.

Sir Keir has previously said he would meet with the Harry Potter author and one-time Labour backer to discuss women’s rights.

In a post on X, she said: “It’s very important that we protect women’s spaces… but men can also be women, says the Labour leader. My postal vote is literally lying next to me. I wanted to wait to hear what Keir Starmer said tonight to fill it in.”

She later added: “(Sir Keir) made it clear where he stands and it’s not with vulnerable women. The Labour Party I supported knew the basis on which women are stigmatised and exploited: their sex.”

Earlier in the debate, Mr Sunak received applause after he urged voters to trust him – as a father of two daughters – to champion women.

Asked why the two male leaders should be trusted to support women if elected, the Prime Minister said: “The easiest thing I can tell you is that I have two young daughters, and that’s why you can trust me.

“Because as a dad, first and foremost rather than a politician or Prime Minister, I want them to grow up in a country which is safe for them when they become teenagers and can walk around on their own, making sure that we have the right police on the streets, our communities are safe for women and girls, was really important to me.

“I want to make sure that they have the health that they need and that’s why we’ve been making changes to things like HRT and maternity care in hospitals, but I also want to make sure that when they grow up and have jobs and start a family that they’re supported too, which is why we’re rolling out 30 hours of free childcare for every working parent.”

He added: “I want my girls to grow up in a country where the sky’s the limit for their ambitions, there is nothing that they can’t do because they’re women.”

Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves (Peter Byrne/PA)

Sir Keir said: “I have in my team, as partners with me, very, very good strong women that will deliver for the country.

“Rachel Reeves will be the first woman chancellor if we’re elected into government, she worked, as you know, at the Bank of England, and is very, very keen and strong on the fiscal rules, what we need to do for our economy.

“I’ve got Angela Rayner, my deputy who, again, has an incredible background, coming from a difficult background where you know as a care worker for many years and now deputy leader of my party, and I’m very proud of her.

“And these people and plenty of others – Bridget Phillipson and you name it – really good, strong women will be part of my team.”