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Government U-turns on plan to ban conversion therapy just a day after recommitting to it

The government has dropped its plan to introduce a new law to ban conversion therapy – just a day after a minister said it was “wholly committed” to it.

Theresa May had initially promised in 2018 the practice, which attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, would be outlawed – and her successor Boris Johnson also said it would be.

But on Thursday, a government spokesman told Sky News that ministers will instead review how existing law can be used more effectively to prevent the practice, which is outlawed in several other countries.

He 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.”

U-turn comes a day after minister’s commitment

A Downing Street briefing paper entitled “conversion therapy handling plan”, seen by ITV News, said: “The PM has agreed we should not move forward with legislation to ban LGBT conversion therapy.”

The briefing warns of a “noisy backlash from LGBT groups and some parliamentarians when we announce we do not intend to proceed” – and the LGBT sector will see it “as a signal the government is uninterested in LGBT issues”.

And it recommended announcing the U-turn as part of this year’s Queen’s Speech in early May to reduce “the risk of looking like we have singled out an LGBT issue”.

But instead, the announcement comes just a day after equalities minister Mike Freer told MPs the government was “wholly committed” to legislating to ban conversion therapy.

Mr Freer may now resign along with the PM’s special envoy on LGBT issues, Lord Herbert, the briefing says.

What had the government promised?

In last May’s Queen’s Speech, the government promised to bring forward legislation to ban conversion therapy.

“We will ban conversion therapy to prevent these abhorrent practices which can cause mental and physical harm,” vowed the government.

“People should be free to be themselves in the UK. The ban will eliminate coercive practices which cause mental and physical harm to individuals.

“We will ensure the action we take to stop this practice is proportionate and effective and does not have unintended consequences.”

‘Terrible betrayal of a whole community’

There has been outrage over the U-turn, including from actor Stephen Fry.

He tweeted: “Just when I thought my contempt for this disgusting government couldn’t sink lower. A curse upon the whole lying, stinking lot of them.”

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who is gay, said: “This is a terrible betrayal of a promise and of a whole community.

“So-called conversion therapists pray on tender hearts and do immeasurable harm.”

Tory MPs have also expressed their anger, with Alicia Kearns, MP for Rutland and Melton, saying that she “stood for election to ban conversion therapy”.

“If we do not bring in this legislation, people will lose lives,” she added.

Caroline Nokes, who asked the government yesterday to confirm legislation was being brought in on conversion therapy, tweeted: “If conversion therapy was ‘abhorrent’ to the government in December why on the eve of April Fool’s Day is it apparently rowing back on a commitment to end it?”

But some on the right of the Tory Party have campaigned against banning conversion therapy, as they argue it could mean children who are questioning their gender could transition without parents allowed to query their decision.

Former Brexit negotiator Lord Frost called the government’s decision to scrap a ban “courageous”.

“It would have been a hugely controversial legislative and process minefield which it’s just not necessary to get into at the moment,” he tweeted.

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