Confusion reigned over the Government’s position on conversion therapy on Thursday night after plans to scrap a ban were confirmed only to reportedly be ditched within hours after a backlash.
A leaked briefing note seen by ITV News said the Prime Minister had decided not to bring forward legislation to ban the practice, despite the move being announced last year.
Conversion therapy is the practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual. It mainly takes place in religious settings.
Downing Street did not deny the position change after the leak emerged on Thursday night, instead saying that new ways to tackle the practice without a new law would be considered.
A government spokesperson said: “Having explored this sensitive issue in great depth the Government has decided to proceed by reviewing how existing law can be deployed more effectively to prevent this in the quickest way possible, and explore the use of other non-legislative measures.”
However hours after the new position had been confirmed, ITV News updated their report to say Mr Johnson had decided to reverse again after a heated backlash – including from Tory MPs – to the news.
Citing a senior Government source, it was reported that the Prime Minister will indeed push ahead with a legal ban on conversion therapy, largely as originally intended.
However it will ban only gay conversion therapy, with trans conversion not being included in the legislation as the issue is considered further by government officials.
A Downing Street spokesman could not be reached to confirm the new position.
ITV News quoted a Tory MP saying they had messaged Mr Johnson directly when the ban had been scrapped to make their disapproval known, saying others had done the same.
Mr Johnson had severely criticised conversion therapy in the past, saying in July 2020 it was “absolutely abhorrent and has no place in a civilised society and has no place in this country”.
A ban has been promised by the Tory Government since 2018 and was announced in the Queen’s Speech last year.
The move to scrap the ban was the latest in a string of policy changes adopted by Downing Street after being pushed by Tory MPs.
It follows a drive by Mr Johnson to shore up support from the party’s Right after calls for his resignation over the “partygate” scandal at the start of the year.
In the past two months, all Covid restrictions have been scrapped, individual tax cuts have been announced, a new drive for oil and gas drilling in the North Sea has been signalled and a proposed ban on foie gras has been thrown into uncertainty.
In January, The Telegraph reported that 30 Tory MPs had written to the Prime Minister on conversion therapy, warning him against rushing through a new law “without debate”.
The letter said the MPs were “deeply concerned” that the proposed ban could also “criminalise legitimate therapies” for children suffering from gender dysphoria, the unease or distress experienced by those who feel at odds with their sex.
But the position contrasted with Mr Johnson’s own public criticism of conversion therapy in the past and his wife Carrie Johnson’s support for the ban.