Boris Johnson backtracks over LGBT conversion practices ban after backlash

Boris Johnson has reportedly performed a hasty retreat after sparking a furious backlash after an announcement that ministers were abandoning plans to ban conversion practices.

Conversion practices attempt to change or suppress a person’s sexuality or gender identity and Johnson and his predecessor Theresa May had promised to make it illegal.

However, earlier on Thursday a government spokesperson had confirmed that they were looking instead at ways of preventing it through existing law and “other non-legislative measures”.

It followed the leak of a Downing Street briefing paper seen by ITV News which said “the PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation” to outlaw the practice.

But within hours of the announcement, the journalist who broke the original story quoted a senior government source as saying legislation would be included in the Queen’s speech in May.

ITV News UK editor Paul Brand tweeted that the prime minister had “changed his mind” after seeing the reaction to the earlier announcement. In a move unlikely to end the controversy, Brand said the legislation would cover “only gay conversion therapy, not trans”.

Reports that the government was not seeking to move ahead with a legal ban had prompted widespread criticism. The Liberal Democrats’ equalities spokesperson, the MP Wera Hobhouse, said: “This is not just yet another U-turn from the Tories, but giving the green light to a form of torture in the UK. This is an utter betrayal of the LGBT+ community.

“Conversion therapy should have been banned years ago, but the Conservatives are looking the other way on this abusive and dangerous practice, this is a complete injustice. The government must ban it without dither or delay.”

Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner against conversion practices and member of the Church of England’s General Synod, had said: “This is by far the most significant betrayal of trust that the LGBT+ community has experienced in years and flies in the face of all the commitments that [the prime minister], his ministers and other senior Tory MPs have made.

“It is incredulous to believe that he has backtracked on such a promise, particularly given the clear evidence of significant harm to vulnerable LGBT+ people highlighted in his own government’s research.”

The decision would leave “countless LGBT+ people completely undefended from degrading abuse, often from those they trust most, and will embolden perpetrators to continue their horrific acts with impunity”, she added.

The document leaked to ITV News, titled Conversion Therapy Handling Plan, recommended announcing the U-turn at the time of the Queen’s speech in May. “This will allow us to position the decision as prioritising our legislative programme, and reduces the risk of looking like we have singled out an LGBT issue,” it says.

The leaked briefing also recommends blaming the change of heart on “pressures on the cost of living and the crisis in Ukraine”.

It warned that the equalities minister Mike Freer, who has been a firm advocate of a ban, could be prompted to resign by the change in policy. Freer told MPs in the House of Commons this week the government remained “wholly committed” to the plan.

There was also speculation in the note that Liz Truss, the women and equalities minister, may be “concerned about owning the new position”, because although she is not ideologically wedded to a ban, she has repeatedly promised one.

PA Media contributed to this report