Boris Johnson has expressed support for excluding transgender athletes from competing in women’s events as his government applies pressure on sports bodies to impose bans.
The Prime Minister indicated he supports swimming governing body Fina’s ban on transgender athletes who have gone through male puberty from competing in women’s events.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries will on Tuesday hold a meeting with leaders of other sports bodies to make it “crystal clear” she wants them to follow the move.
Asked about Fina’s ban, Mr Johnson said: “I haven’t studied it in detail but I see no reason to dissent.”
After having the policy summarised to him, he added: “That follows from what I’ve previously said.”
Mr Johnson was also asked if a woman can be born with a penis, amid a debate in some quarters about anatomy and gender.
“Not without being a man, that’s my view about that,” the Prime Minister replied.
Speaking to reporters travelling with him during his visit to Rwanda, he was asked if he thinks there is a difference between being a woman and a trans woman.
After pausing to think he said: “Yes.”
He added: “Look it’s very, very important that as a society we should be as understanding of everybody else as possible. I’ve always stood for that.
“When you start to move from issues of sexuality to issues of gender you start to raise particular problems.
“I think I’ve spoken of three concerns I’ve had in the past. They are to do with the age at which you can (become) Gillick competent to transition, the question of safe spaces for women, and the difficulties you have in sporting competitions.
“These are all very difficult problems and you have to be very, very sensitive.”
LGBT charity Stonewall criticised the line of questioning, suggesting the Prime Minister would welcome it as a “distraction” from the political turmoil.
Campaigns associate director Sasha Misra said: “The real question that should be on the nation’s lips is this: at a time when we are living through multiple national crises, why are journalists squandering valuable interview time by asking the Prime Minister leading questions about a tiny, vulnerable minority?
“We know that the majority of the public feel supportive and compassionate towards trans people, who are their family, friends and neighbours.
“All that is achieved by this kind of media coverage is that trans people feel less safe in their day to day lives, and the public has less opportunity to hear from the government on the pressing political matters of the day.
“The Prime Minister might welcome the distraction, but he should not be fooled into thinking that anti-trans talking points will win votes.”
Some have interpreted the Conservatives’ move to heighten the debate around trans rights as a way of widening divisions on the subject within the Labour Party.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has in the past declined to give a definitive answer on the penis question.
Instead he said: “I don’t think that discussing this issue in this way helps anyone in the long run.”