“I don’t think Rosie Duffield is a transphobe,” says Jess Phillips

Elliot Chappell
© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

Shadow minister Jess Phillips has said she does not think Rosie Duffield is a transphobe and there needs to be “proper detailed debate and attention by policy-makers” on transgender issues.

In an interview with Times Radio this morning, the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding discussed the Twitter row involving the Labour MP for Canterbury Rosie Duffield.

Phillips said Twitter was not the right place for “reasonable policy debate about sometimes difficult and complex issues”, and argued: “We have all suffered a Twitter pile-on and it just is a sort of sad indictment of our politics.”

Asked whether Duffield is transphobic, as party members online have said, Phillips said: “I hand on heart don’t think that Rosie Duffield is a transphobe.

“What I think that is happening in this case, and it’s the same for a number of different subjects that get discussed on Twitter, is that we soon find out that reasonable policy debate about sometimes difficult and complex issues – Twitter is not the place to be doing that.

“And I think the trans issue, more than anything else, deserves proper detailed debate and attention by policy makers who almost certainly should be changing the Gender Recognition Act – it is now outdated – without it becoming some sort of vitriolic war where the debate never seems to advance.”

She added: “Because of that, the rights of trans people have subsequently not advanced. So you’re right – we have all suffered a Twitter pile-on and it just is a sort of sad indictment of our politics that we can’t have reasonably political and policy debates.”

The comments by Phillips followed a row on the social media platform after Duffield liked a tweet by Piers Morgan, in which he took issue with CNN referring to “individuals with a cervix”.

After being criticised for liking the tweet by local Labour activists in her constituency, Duffield responded by commenting: “I’m a ‘transphobe’ for knowing that only women have a cervix….?!”

She added that the post by CNN “isn’t a post about transphobia, it’s a post about female body parts… Hugely insulting to all women, trans or cis, in my opinion”.

Many of her followers and Labour activists reacted angrily to her comments, calling for her resignation. The Labour MP called the reaction a “tedious communist pile-on”, and said that it was “hardly a suitable discussion for Twitter”.

The Labour Campaign for Trans Rights said: “We are shocked and saddened at the inaccurate, transphobic comments of Rosie Duffield MP. We are calling on our party to take action on this incident, and firmly oppose the climate of transphobia which has helped to cause it.”

Duffield was elected to the previously safe Tory seat of Canterbury for the first time in 2017. She was appointed as a whip by new leader Keir Starmer in mid-April, but recently resigned from her frontbench post after breaking Covid lockdown rules.

In the interview with Times Radio, Phillips also discussed the arrest of a Tory MP on suspicion of rape. The shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding called for the Tory Party to remove the whip.

A Conservative MP was released on bail on Saturday after allegations, which related to four separate incidents alleged to have taken place between July 2019 and January 2020, were made by an ex-parliamentary employee.

Commenting on the case, Phillips said: “In any other organisation, were this investigation to be going on – this police investigation – somebody would be suspended while the investigation was taking place.

“I find it shocking, this morning, the news that the Conservative Party have decided not to withdraw the whip. And I’m afraid to say it reminds me of another case that has been in the papers this last week, and that was the conviction of the ex-Tory MP Charlie Elphicke.”

The former MP for Dover was convicted of three counts of sexual assault against two different women. He had initially been suspended by the Conservative Party, but was reinstated ahead of a vote of no confidence tabled against the then PM.

Phillips concluded: “It is sending a terrible message out from Westminster that there are still some people who are afforded protection… Pending a police investigation for a sexual crime, I think it is only right that the whip is withdrawn.”

The Labour Party has been contacted for comment on Rosie Duffield’s tweets.

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