Boris Johnson has reversed a plan to keep so-called gay conversion therapy legal after fierce backlash from campaigners and MPs, according to reports.
The U-turn comes just hours after it emerged the prime minister had decided against making it a crime to seek to change someone’s sexual orientation.
Though the government will now outlaw the gay “therapy”, No 10 said the equivalent practice for trans people will remain legal, reports from ITV News and Sky News said.
The Conservative Party pledged in 2018 to end “conversion” therapies which seek to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The government had sought to justify Thursday’s short-lived departure from the pledge by saying it had decided to review “how existing law can be deployed more effectively” to stop the practice.
The spokesperson said the government would also “explore the use of other non-legislative measures” to stop abusive practices.
A Downing Street briefing document leaked to the press earlier on Thursday suggested that the U-turn could be blamed on the need to prioritize government legislation from May, given the Ukraine war and cost of living crisis.
It reportedly warned officials there would be a “noisy backlash from LGBT groups and some parliamentarians when we announce we do not intend to proceed”.
The warning proved present. Alicia Kearns, Conservative MP for Rutland, said: “We’ve had time to vote that lobsters have sentience – tell me how that is more important than telling gay and trans people that they deserve to be loved.”
Dehenna Davison, an LGBT Tory MP, said the decision to drop the ban was “fundamentally wrong” and needed “to be reversed immediately”.
Labor said the “outrageous decision” shows the prime minister could not be taken at his word on LGBT+ rights.
ITV News journalist Paul Brand, who first reported the dropping of the ban, said sources suggested that 60 MPs lobbied Mr Johnson to change course.
Jayne Ozanne, an LGBT rights activist within the Church of England, said the prime minister had “shown his true colors with regard to the LGBT community” and the decision will “horrify people right across the country”.
Ms Ozanne is also chair of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition and was a member of the government’s LGBT advisory panel until she quit last year, accusing ministers of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT people.
Legislation aimed at banning conversion therapy was announced in last year’s Queen’s Speech.
In October, Liz Truss, who as equalities minister drafted the original policy, stated “there should be no place for the abhorrent practice.”
The leaked document reportedly warned that some involved in the legislation had not yet been told about No 10’s change of policy – including Ms Truss.
“While Liz is not ideologically committed to the legislation, she is likely to be concerned about owning the new position, having personally committed to delivering the bill”, the briefing was said to read.