Ministers threaten legal action over fears Nicola Sturgeon’s gender bill could lead to ‘trans tourism’

Nicola Sturgeon, pictured in Holyrood, has dismissed concerns from the United Nations about the new legislation - Ken Jack/Getty
Nicola Sturgeon, pictured in Holyrood, has dismissed concerns from the United Nations about the new legislation - Ken Jack/Getty

Ministers have threatened legal action over Scottish gender recognition reforms amid concern over “trans tourism”.

The Government has urged Nicola Sturgeon to axe her controversial overhaul of transgender laws which will see people as young as 16 allowed to change their legal gender simply by signing a declaration.

Under legislation expected to be passed by the Scottish parliament before Christmas, people over the age of 16 will be able to apply for a birth certificate with their new sex within six months without a gender dysphoria diagnosis.

But senior Whitehall figures fear the laws, which make it significantly easier for someone to officially change their legal gender than in the rest of the UK, will put single-sex spaces such as prisons and changing rooms in jeopardy across the country.

They warned it could lead to “trans tourism” - whereby a transgender woman could travel to Scotland to have their gender legally changed, then use their new official status to access female-only spaces south of the border.

The Attorney General’s office is currently drawing up legal advice for the UK Government on the implications of the new legislation on the union, The Telegraph understands.

Ministers are currently studying various avenues, including a possible legal challenge against the measure. They are also looking at whether the UK Government could refuse to recognise the Scottish gender recognition certificates.

“It is pretty unprecedented to have a devolved administration potentially alter UK wide processes and structures,” a government source said.

“The SNP’s political purpose is very clear - it is to undermine the union. There is legal advice coming in on this, we are exploring all the different possibilities and options. Nothing is off the table.”

Kemi Badenoch, the women and equalities minister, has written to Ms Sturgeon to express her dismay at the legislation. She has also summoned the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for social justice, housing and local government for a meeting to discuss it at the earliest opportunity.

She was “concerned” by the changes being proposed that would create a “divergence” of approach between England and Scotland on a “complex and important issue”.

“Individuals contemplating the very serious step of changing their legal sex need clarity on the process that they must undertake and I am concerned about the impact [of] having divergent regimes in the different parts of the UK,” she said.

She added it was “not possible” for the legislation to be “fully contained” within Scotland, adding: “I have heard from a number of women who have highlighted their concerns about these proposals and the implications for wider society.”

While the legislation is expected to pass, there is likely to be a major SNP rebellion while Scottish Labour is also coming under pressure to abandon its support.

Last month the legislation was dealt a blow when Rem Alsasmen, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, warned the First Minister that her proposed laws risk “opening the door” to predatory males abusing women in single-sex spaces.

On Friday, Rachael Hamilton MSP, the Scottish Conservative equalities spokesperson, demanded an emergency session at Holyrood to hear evidence from Ms Alsasmen.

“It’s astonishing to see how recklessly the SNP have dismissed and ignored the concerns of a United Nations expert on violence against women and girls,” Ms Hamilton said.

She accused the SNP of instead seeking to “dismiss this damning evidence” and trying to railroad their legislation through parliament “without proper scrutiny”.

Downing Street said on Friday that it has not ruled out taking a legal challenge or refusing to recognise Scotland's gender reform plans.

A No 10 spokesman said: "We've made no decisions on any potential action at this time. As the Equalities and Human Rights Commission and UN special rapporteur have set out, the Scottish Government's proposals currently raise a number of clear concerns.

"But in order to understand the potential impact of the Bill across the United Kingdom we will obviously monitor its progress closely as we do with any potential Bill."

Asked if the Government could take legal action against the legislation, he said: "We've made no decisions at this time."