Cabinet minister Gillian Keegan goes off-message on gender identity rules

Embarrassing moment Cabinet minister Gillian Keegan goes off-message insisting 16 year-olds ARE old enough to change genders – before frantically trying to quell row saying she doesn’t have a ‘strong opinion’

  • Education Secretary Gillian Keegan found herself in a tangle during interviews
  • Suggested that 16-year-olds are old enough to decide to change their gender
  • Rishi Sunak has moved to block Scottish law that would lower the age limit 

A Cabinet minister was left floundering today after insisting 16-year-olds are old enough to change genders.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan risked a clash with Rishi Sunak by suggesting during a round of interviews that she backed reducing the age limit from 18.

That is one of the moves in legislation passed by Holyrood – which is being blocked by Westminster because it would clash with existing UK laws.

But after pointing out that she personally had been working and paying tax at 16, Ms Keegan then frantically tried to quell the row in an appearance later by saying she did not have a ‘strong opinion’.

Nicola Sturgeon has complained of a ‘full-frontal attack’ by Westminster after ministers stepped in to stop the law passed by Holyrood causing chaos.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack will make a statement to MPs later explaining the unprecedented use of Section 35 powers – with experts saying the Scottish administration overstepped the mark. 

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan risked a clash with Rishi Sunak by suggesting during a round of interviews that she backed reducing the age limit from 18

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan risked a clash with Rishi Sunak by suggesting during a round of interviews that she backed reducing the age limit from 18

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and Rishi Sunak near Inverness last week

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and Rishi Sunak near Inverness last week

Appearing on Sky News, Ms Keegan was asked if she would be content for children in schools at 16 to say whether they want to change their gender.

She said: ‘We have to be very sensitive to children. We are actually going to publish some guidance and consult because it is a very tricky area to get right.

‘It has to be age-appropriate, but children have to be supported as well.’

Pressed on her personal view, the minister was asked if 16 was too young.

‘No I don’t actually. I was working at 16, I was paying tax at 16, I was making decisions for myself at 16,’ she replied.

‘But it’s not really about what I think, it’s how we make sure we get that right balance of supporting children, but also making sure that what they’re getting taught in schools is age-appropriate.’

Ms Keegan appeared to row back on the remarks later, denying she is at odds with Mr Sunak over the issue.

‘What I said is we will be publishing guidance and having quite a long consultation because it’s a very tricky subject and we want to make sure that we support children in the right way at the right time and teach them in an age appropriate way,’ she said.

‘I said ‘Look, you know, at 16, I was working, I was paying tax’, but all 16-year-olds are different.

‘Obviously, everybody has a different view. It’s really, really important that we take into account parents’ views, teachers’ views, children’s views, and other stakeholders’ views as well because it is quite tricky.

‘But what I said was, you know, for me, myself, I felt able to take decisions for myself at 16. But of course I was… I’d grown up quite quickly and I was actually working full-time at 16.

‘So, no, I have not got a difference of opinion. Actually, I don’t have a strong opinion.

‘My strong opinion is that we need to treat this very carefully, very sensitively, supporting children all the way along.’

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had warned the UK Government against blocking the gender identity legislation

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had warned the UK Government against blocking the gender identity legislation

Nicola Sturgeon hit out at a 'full-frontal attack' on Holyrood and vowed her Scottish Government would continue to defend the gender legislation

Nicola Sturgeon hit out at a ‘full-frontal attack’ on Holyrood and vowed her Scottish Government would continue to defend the gender legislation

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