Downing St moves to block Scotland’s gender recognition bill becoming law

Beyond England Downing Street Law and Justice Policy & Politics

Prime minister Rishi Sunak has put the UK government on a collision course with Scotland’s parliament by threatening to block the gender recognition bill passed by Holyrood from becoming law.

Sunak said it is “completely reasonable” for the UK government to block the new legislation allowing Scots aged 16-and-over to self-declare and change their legal gender.

Holyrood passed the gender recognition bill on Thursday. On Friday Sunak told Sky News: “Lots of people have got concerns about this new bill in Scotland, about the impact it will have on women’s and children’s safety.

“So I think it is completely reasonable for the UK government to have a look at it, understand what the consequences are for women and children’s safety in the rest of the UK, and then decide on what the appropriate course of action is.”

Westminster has the power – under section 35 of the 199 Scotland act – to veto Scottish legislation deemed to have an “adverse effect” on laws where Westminster has ultimate jurisdiction. The UK government has never used the power nor blocked any previous law passed by Holyrood from receiving Royal Assent.

UK women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch has repeated her concerns that the bill passed despite opposition from sections of the SNP and some equalities groups.

Badenoch – who is also trade secretary and a former Conservative party leadership contender – warned Scotland’s gender equality bill will impact on how the equality act is implemented around the UK. She said the government is “looking at provision that can prompt reconsideration [of sections of the bill] and allow MSPs to address these issues”.

Scotland’s justice secretary Shona Robison said the government at Holyrood will “vigorously contest” any attempt by Downing Street to block the gender equality bill.

“The bill as passed is absolutely within legislative competence and, of course, was backed by an overwhelming majority with support from all parties,” Robison told BBC Radio Scotland.

“I think any attempt by the UK government to undermine what is, after all, the democratic will of the Scottish parliament, will be vigorously contested by the Scottish government.”

The gender equality bill passed by 86 votes to 39 – marking the biggest SNP backbench revolt in history – after three days of what the Guardian describes as, “intense and at times emotional debate at Holyrood.”

Speaking before the debate at first minister’s questions, Nicola Sturgeon said she will “never apologise for trying to spread equality, not reduce it in our country”.

Sturgeon retweeted the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioner for human rights Dunja Mijatović welcoming of Scotland’s new law “introducing legal gender recognition based on self determination”.

“Nine @coe states have already adopted such laws & several others [are] under consideration,” tweeted Mijatović, adding there is a “key trend for full realisation of trans people’s #HumanRIghts.”

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