Turning trans issues into a ‘toxic divide’ doesn’t help, says Keir Starmer

<span>Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA</span>
Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA

Keir Starmer has said there would be “no rolling back” on women’s rights as he attempted to clarify how a Labour government would handle the trans rights debate.

With the issue becoming increasingly divisive within his party, the Labour leader said he wanted to stop the issue becoming a “toxic divide”. He also distanced himself from Nicola Sturgeon’s gender recognition bill, which proposed self-identification for those wanting to change their legal gender, calling for a “reset in Scotland”. Scottish Labour had voted in favour of the legislation.

“The lesson from Scotland is that if you can’t take the public with you on a journey of reform, then you’re probably not on the right journey. And that’s why I think that collectively there ought to be a reset in Scotland,” he said.

Repeatedly asked by the Sunday Times about whether it was ­possible for a woman to have a penis, he said: “For 99.9% of women, it is ­completely biological … and, of course, they haven’t got a penis.”

It comes after feminist groups and his own MP Rosie Duffield have claimed Labour has a “women problem”. However, others have called on Labour to be stronger in supporting trans people. “There are some people who identify as a different gender to the one they are born with,” Starmer said. “It’s a very small number, and that is why the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) was passed [in 2004].

“They need legal support and a framework. Most people don’t disagree with that, and that’s the framework within which we ought to look at these issues. But simply turning it into a toxic divide advances the cause of no one – the cause of women or those that don’t identify with the gender that they were born into. And it’s also a pattern of behaviour of the last 10 years which is turning everything into a toxic culture … which is the last resort of politicians who have nothing substantive to say on the issue.”

Labour insiders said the party’s position remained unchanged, with pledges to modernise the GRA to improve trans rights and keep the protections in the Equality Act for ­single-sex spaces.