Boris Johnson was forced into a rapid U-turn last night as news leaked that his government planned to break its promise to ban conversion therapy.
The government has since said that it still plans to outlaw conversion therapy based on sexuality, but confirmed that it has abandoned plans to protect transgender people from the practice.
Conversion therapies are discredited and harmful practices which attempt to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity. NHS England and other professional bodies have said that all forms of conversion therapy are “unethical and potentially harmful”.
The decision to exclude gender-based conversion therapy from the ban runs against the recommendations of the government’s research on the issue, published last October. The research found that gender and sexuality conversion therapies used similar methods, and that both tended to produce poor mental health outcomes and reinforce stigmas. It recommended that both types of conversion therapy be banned.
The ban has been government policy for almost four years and has been promised by ministers on 35 separate occasions, yet no legislation has been introduced. In that time, bans have been introduced by eight national governments, and 11 state governments in Australia and the US. In the last four months alone conversion therapy for both gender and sexuality has been banned in Canada, France, Israel and New Zealand.
The ban was first pledged in 2018 after a government survey found that 7 per cent of the UK’s LGBT population had received or been offered conversion therapy. The figure was 13 per cent for trans respondents, and as high as 28 per cent for black trans people.
Publishing the report Penny Mordaunt, the minister for women and equalities, said that she wanted to see the plan implemented before the next general election. As the Conservative Party consumed itself over Brexit, however, it fell by the wayside.
After Boris Johnson’s ascendance to the leadership Mordaunt was replaced with the former home secretary Amber Rudd. Within months, Rudd would resign over the government’s policy of pursuing a no-deal Brexit, to be replaced by Liz Truss.
In July 2020 the Prime Minister himself promised to ban conversion therapy, telling journalists: “What we are going to do is a study… and we will then bring forward plans to ban it.” The pledge was echoed two days later in the House of Commons by Truss, who told MPs: “When that research is complete, I will bring forward proposals to ban conversion therapy.”
That September Truss told MPs that the research in question would be finished by the end of the month. That deadline came and went, leaving MPs increasingly frustrated with the government’s inaction.
In March 2021 three members of the government’s LGBT advisory panel resigned over the issue. One accused ministers of acting in “appalling faith”, telling them: “Get your act together. Use the panel for what it was intended and actually prohibit conversion therapy.”
Truss promised that the legislation would be brought forward “shortly”. Questioned by MPs later that month, she reiterated that she was "committed to banning conversion therapy".
The plans were included in the Queen’s Speech in May 2021 and five months later the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on LGBT Rights said that the relevant legislation would be brought forward in spring 2022, following a consultation. The government’s report introducing that consultation was published last October, and included a commitment to banning conversion therapy for both sexuality and gender. The consultation was extended in December, with the government reiterating its commitment to a ban: “The question is how, not whether, we will ban conversion therapy.”
As recently as Wednesday (30 March), the day before news leaked of the government’s plan to ditch the ban entirely, the equalities minister Mike Freer reassured anxious MPs that ministers “remain wholly committed to bringing forward proposals to ban conversion therapy practices”.
The results from the latest round of consultations, which ended on 4 February, have yet to be published.