The Health Secretary has accused Sir Keir Starmer of a “total denial of scientific fact” after he claimed it is wrong to say only women have a cervix.
The Labour leader was forced to intervene on a debate over transgender rights that has threatened to overshadow this year’s party conference, after MP Rosie Duffield said his position on the issue needed to be clarified.
Yesterday Sir Keir said Ms Duffield, who is not attending the conference in Brighton after receiving threats and being branded transphobic, was wrong to say “only women have a cervix”.
He called for a “mature and respectful debate” around trans rights, as he warned that trans individuals are among the “most marginalised and abused communities”.
But Sajid Javid said Sir Keir’s position was a “total denial of scientific fact,” adding: “And he wants to run the NHS”.
Ms Duffield has faced criticism for opposing people who were born male but self-identify as trans having access to spaces such as domestic violence refuges, school toilets and prisons.
The Canterbury MP also queried being called a “transphobe” for “knowing that only women have a cervix”.
Sir Keir declined to call her remarks transphobic but did tell The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: “It is something that shouldn’t be said. It is not right.
“I spoke to Rosie earlier this week and told her conference is a safe place for her to come, and it is a safe place for her to come.
“We do everybody a disservice when we reduce what is a really important issue to these exchanges on particular things that are said.”
Sir Keir added: “We need to have a mature, respectful debate about trans rights and we need to bear in mind that the trans community are amongst the most marginalised and abused communities, and wherever we’ve got to on the law, we need to go further.”
Angela Rayner, Sir Keir’s deputy, said she was shocked by the level of abuse aimed at female politicians and it was a “concern” that Ms Duffield felt unable to attend the conference.
Ms Rayner told Sky News: “What I have been shocked by, especially my female colleagues – and that’s Conservative female MPs as well – is the level of misogynist abuse they get.”
She promised “robust” action against any Labour member who targets Ms Duffield.
“Rosie deserves our full support and protection against that and she would get that. If she had come to conference, we would have risk-assessed and made sure that she had every bit of support that she needed to be here,” she said.
“Anybody who abuses Rosie Duffield who is a member of the Labour Party would go through our formal complaints procedure and I would expect a robust response on it.”
Ms Duffield said she had met with Sir Keir to discuss her concerns prior to the conference but had decided not to attend in case her presence overshadowed the wider issues facing the party.
Labour has pledged to reform the Gender Recognition Act to allow transgender people to self-identify with a gender different to that of their birth.
The party also says it will uphold separate legislation that makes provision for single-sex spaces in some instances.
Anneliese Dodds, the chair of the Labour Party and newly-appointed women and equalities minister, said on Saturday: “A Labour government that acknowledges that trans rights are human rights and that would reform the Gender Recognition Act to enable a process for self-identification while continuing to support the 2010 Equalities Act.”
“One in five LGBT workers are the target of negative comments or conduct from colleagues at work and one in three trans people face the same,” she added.