The government has dropped plans to introduce a new law to ban conversion therapy.
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.”
A Downing Street briefing paper called ‘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 there will be a “noisy backlash from LGBT groups and some parliamentarians when we announce we do not intend to proceed” – and says the LGBT sector will see it “as a signal the government is uninterested in LGBT issues”.
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”.
The U-turn comes just a day after equalities minister Mike Freer told MPs the government was “wholly committed” to legislating to ban conversion therapy.
In the briefing, it advised that Mr Freer and the PM’s Special Envoy on LGBT issues, Lord Herbert, may resign.
There was a hint the legislation may not be going ahead as planned after Health Secretary Sajid Javid earlier on Thursday said he would “wait for the outcome” of a consultation looking at how best to protect people from the practice.
In the Queen’s Speech last May, the government promised to bring forward legislation to ban conversion therapy.
It said: “We will ban conversion therapy to prevent these abhorrent practices which can cause mental and physical harm.
“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.”