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by Staff reporter
16 January 2023
UK Government to block Scottish gender recognition reform

UK Government to block Scottish gender recognition reform

The UK Government has said it will block the Scottish Government's gender recognition reforms amid concerns over the impact on UK-wide legislation.

The legislation, which was passed by MSPs last month, seeks to make it easier for trans people to legally change their gender but there are concerns that it changes the Equality Act, a reserved piece of legislation.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said he would make a section 35 order under the Scotland Act to prevent the legislation receiving Royal assent. It is the first time in the history of devolution that this has happened. 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the move as a “a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament”.

Jack said: “I have decided to make an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, preventing the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill from proceeding to Royal assent.

“After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation. 

“Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding. My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters. 

“I have not taken this decision lightly. The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action. 

“If the Scottish Government chooses to bring an amended Bill back for reconsideration in the Scottish Parliament, I hope we can work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of UK Parliament legislation.” 

In a tweet, Sturgeon said: “This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish Parliament and it's ability to make it's own decisions on devolved matters. @scotgov will defend the legislation & stand up for Scotland’s Parliament. If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be first of many.” 

Earlier, she said her government was “very, very, very” confident of defending the Gender Recognition Reform Bill should the UK Government attempt to block it becoming law.

Speaking at a press conference in Monday morning, Nicola Sturgeon accused the UK Government of using trans people as a “political weapon”, adding that moving the stop the legislation would be “unconscionable and indefensible and really quite disgraceful”.

Sturgeon said: “We will vigorously defend the legislation, depending on if there is a challenge – and I hope there won’t be, but the indications would suggest that may be what we are looking at – but it would depend what route for that the UK Government takes.

“If it’s a Section 33 challenge then that will go to the Supreme Court as I understand it and we will defend the bill in the Supreme Court. A Section 35 challenge, that would require I think the Scottish Government to judicially review that decision.

“These are technicalities but what I will say in general is that we will absolutely robustly and vigorously, and with a very, very, very high degree of confidence, defend the legislation.”

She also said the move would be evidence of the UK Government’s “complete contempt for the Scottish Parliament”.

Reacting to the Scottish Secretary's announcement, Scottish Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said: “This is a dark day for our devolution settlement, for democracy, and for trans rights. It sets a very alarming new precedent that should concern everyone who believes in devolution and wants the Scottish Parliament to exist. 

“Only one month ago, MSPs voted overwhelmingly for Gender Recognition Reform. It was a proud day for equality, and for our Parliament. 

“To see a reactionary Tory government trying to block or overturn it is nothing short of outrageous, and we will resist them every step of the way.”

Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans Alliance, said the organisation expected the Scottish Government to challenge the decision in the courts. 

“The bill as passed would introduce a simpler and fairer way for trans men and women to be legally recognised as who they truly are, allowing them to live with the dignity we all deserve.

“It was passed by the Scottish Parliament by 86 votes to 39, with the overwhelming support of the SNP, Labour, the Greens and the LibDems.

“For the UK Government to seek to block the Scottish democratic process in this way, simply because they disagree with the welcome decision the Scottish Parliament has made to improve trans people’s lives, is unacceptable. We fully expect the Scottish Government to challenge this in the courts.”

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