Keir Starmer backs ‘women-only spaces' in ‘specific circumstances', amid Labour row

© Rosie Duffield won’t attend Labourconference in Brighton this week

Rosie Duffield said she was ‘not confident’ that Labour would maintain its policy

Trans women can be excluded from some “women-only spaces” in some circumstances, Keir Starmer says, as the controversy threatens to open a bitter row in the party.

The Labour leader’s spokesman said he remained wedded to the policy on which the party fought the last general election – and that there was “no reason to expect it is going to change”.

This meant backing “the implementation of the Equality Act, including the single-sex exemption which allows the provision of women-only spaces”.

The law “rightly assumes the inclusion of trans women, except in specific circumstances”, the spokesman said, normally thought to include prisons and refuges.

The stance comes after Labour backbencher Rosie Duffield – who has pulled out of the Labour conference over security fears – protested that she did not know where Sir Keir stood on the issue.

Last week, the Canterbury MP – who has received threats of violence after her comments on transgender rights – questioned whether Labour was about to change course.

She urged Sir Keir to maintain support for “biological females” to feel “protected” in prisons and domestic violence refuges, for example, but said she was “not confident” the policy would be upheld.

Ms Duffield held talks with the Labour leader yesterday, as he also met with Labour MPs in the party’s LGBT+ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights] group.

Amid the controversy over the abuse she has received, Sir Keir’s spokesman reiterated that “debate should always be held in an atmosphere of respect for all points of view”.

“Keir met with Rosie Duffield yesterday, following on from her request for a meeting,” he said, adding he also met the LGBT+ group separately.

On the party’s policy, he said: “Our position on this has not changed [from the 2019 manifesto].

“What we have said is that Labour would work to update the Gender Recognition Act to enable a process for gender identification.

“And we also continue to support the implementation of the Equality Act, including the single-sex exemption which allows the provision of women-only spaces. This law rightly assumes the inclusion of trans women, except in specific circumstances.”

In contrast, the Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said trans women should be allowed to enter all public places, as he accused Boris Johnson of stirring up “a culture war” on the issue.

In 2019, Ms Duffield spoke powerfully in the Commons chamber about suffering domestic abuse during a previous relationship.

Last week, she said the Equality Act was not specific about women-only spaces, but laid down they should exist “where it is deemed necessary”.

“Of course, that’s open to interpretation, but I would have thought – at the very least – that implies domestic violence settings,” Ms Duffield told BBC Radio 4.

“Everyone has the right to be protected, and if biological females need more spaces that are just for them … we have the 2010 Equality Act and we have pledged as a party to uphold that.”

But, asked if that would be Labour’s policy at the next election, the MP replied: “I’m not confident. We haven’t had another discussion, debate.”

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