Boris Johnson is facing mounting calls to halt the fast-tracking of a ban on conversion therapy, as 30 Tory MPs warn against rushing through a new law "without debate".
In a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been seen by this newspaper, the MPs say they are "deeply concerned" that the proposed ban could also "criminalise legitimate therapies" for children suffering from gender dysphoria - the unease or distress experienced by those who feel at odds with their sex.
The Government's plans to outlaw gay conversion therapy - which are not seen as controversial - were first promised by the Conservatives in 2018.
But proposals published last year make clear that the ban would also encapsulate conversion therapy aimed at changing gender identity, which MPs fear will criminalise routine conversations between children and parents, teachers, or clinicians.
The timing of the letter suggests that overhauling plans to introduce a ban "as quickly as possible" is a key demand of a significant number of MPs as Mr Johnson prepares to announce a series of major policy and staffing changes in a bid to save his premiership.
Consultation period extended
In December, Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary and equalities minister, bowed to pressure to extend the formal consultation on the issue, which was initially restricted to just six weeks and due to close before Christmas. It is now open until February 4 after Mr Johnson raised concerns with aides about the initial time period.
In the letter to the Prime Minister, MPs understood to include Damian Green, the former first secretary of state, Jackie Doyle-Price, the ex health minister, and a string of members of the Conservatives' 2019 intake, state: "We are deeply concerned that the Government’s recent proposals could criminalise legitimate therapies for children who are suffering from gender dysphoria.
"What is being proposed could have significant unintended consequences for children and could lead to parents, therapists and teachers - who are trying to help children explore why they say they are transgender - facing prosecution."
The MPs, who are also understood to include Sir Robert Syms, a former whip, and Ben Bradley, an ex vice chairman of the Conservatives, add: "This is a very complex and sensitive issue – indeed it is the focus for the NHS’ Cass Review, due to report in early summer – and we welcome the Government’s commitment that the consultation “marks the start of [its] formal public engagement]”.
MPs keen not to rush the legislation
"We do not see how this is compatible with an intention to “deliver a ban as quickly as possible”, with a “draft bill for spring 2022”. We should be listening and learning from each other as we legislate in this sensitive area, not rushing things onto the statute books without debate.
"Much can be gained if we have more debate and scrutiny, but there are severe risks and consequences for children, parents, teachers and therapists if we give in to calls to rush legislation and truncate consideration of these issues."
The plan to explicitly outlaw "abhorrent" gay conversion therapies was first announced by Theresa May in 2018. It is being championed by Henry Newman, one of Mr Johnson's senior advisers.
The plans are being fast-tracked in order to present a bill to the Commons in time for an LGBT conference being hosted by Britain next summer. Lord Goldsmith, the environment minister, has publicly warned that it was “so important that we get this legislation right”.
Last month, Ms Truss insisted that parents and teachers will remain free to talk to children about “whether they are transgender or not”. But, in a letter to MPs and peers, the Cabinet minister said the Government remained “committed to preparing legislation to ban conversion therapy for Spring 2022 and introducing this as soon as Parliamentary time allows.”