Rishi Sunak’s Press Secretary said on a further seven occasions that his remarks at PMQs were ‘legitimate’ – even after he was told that Esther Ghey was in the chamber
No10 refused six times to apologise for Rishi Sunak telling a trans joke at PMQs while Brianna Ghey ’s mother was visiting the Commons.
And Mr Sunak’s press secretary said seven times that it was “legitimate” to make the joke – despite cries of “shame” and “apologise” from MPs in the chamber. The Prime Minister tried to mock Sir Keir Starmer’s stance on “defining a woman” after the Commons had heard the mother of murdered transgender teenager Brianna Ghey was watching from the gallery.
A spokesperson for Keir Starmer said: “We don’t think that the country wants or deserve a prime minister who thinks minorities are a punchbag. He should reflect on his comments and apologise.” But Mr Sunak failed to apologise for the jibe during Prime Minister’s Questions.
And afterwards, at a huddle for journalists, his official spokesman and press secretary refused to do so on six occasions. She repeatedly refused to address the joke itself, instead attempting to pivot questions back to an attack on Mr Starmer.
“I think if you look back at what the PM was saying, there was a long list of U-turns the leader of the opposition had been making,” the Press Secretary said, when asked if the joke was appropriate. “I don’t think those u-turns are a joke. I think it was quite serious changes in public policy. I think it’s totally legitimate to point those out.”
Asked why he’d chosen to bring up trans issues in particular at the despatch box, she said: “Well, there are more. I admit, there could have been more.” She used the word “legitimate” on six further occasions in response to questions about the joke.
And she attempted to compare Mr Sunak’s joke to Keir Starmer having previously sworn at the despatch box while quoting Tory MPs. Asked whether the Prime Minister felt he should lead by example in his words, language and behaviour, she said: “I think the Prime Minister always leads by example. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the Prime Minister swear at the despatch box.”
She went on: “He’s talked about his sympathy for the parents of Brianna, and the terrible situation they’ve faced.” But asked if he still thought the joke was “OK”, she replied: “I think you can take his words from the chamber.”
Pressed on whether Mr Sunak thought it would be appropriate to say he was “very very sorry”, the spokesman said: “I think the PM has always been clear that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. And in the case of Brianna Ghey’s mother, in particular, he is paying tribute to the immense bravery she’s shown at an unimaginably difficult time.”