Sunak backs JK Rowling in trans arrest row with Scottish police

JK Rowling has dared Scottish police to arrest her for her comments about transgender people
JK Rowling has dared Scottish police to arrest her for her comments about transgender people - Samir Hussein/WireImage
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Rishi Sunak has backed JK Rowling after she challenged Scottish police to use the SNP’s new hate crime laws to arrest her for her views on transgender issues.

The Harry Potter author had said she was looking forward to being arrested after describing a series of transgender women as men on the day the new law came into force.

An SNP minister had earlier admitted that Rowling could be investigated under the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act – which creates a new offence of “stirring up of hatred” for “misgendering” trans people.

However, the Prime Minister gave his support to Rowling saying that the Conservatives would alway protect free speech.

He said: “People should not be criminalised for stating simple facts on biology. We believe in free speech in this country, and Conservatives will always protect it.”

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak has shown support for JK Rowling - Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

On Monday, Rowling had posted pictures of 10 high-profile trans people and ridiculed their claims to be women.

They included the “double rapist” Isla Bryson, whom she mockingly referred to as a “lovely Scottish lass”, and the TV personality India Willoughby.

At the end of the list, Rowling tweeted: “April Fools! Only kidding. Obviously, the people mentioned in the above tweets aren’t women at all, but men, every last one of them.”

She said: “Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal.

“I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment.” She used the hashtag #arrestme.


JK Rowling dares police to arrest her over SNP's new hate crime law

Read Rowling's tweets in full

After posting the list of trans women, Rowling said that the MSPs who voted for the new hate crime laws had “placed higher value on the feelings of men performing their idea of femaleness, however misogynistically or opportunistically, than on the rights and freedoms of actual women and girls”.

She said: “The new legislation is wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces, the nonsense made of crime data if violent and sexual assaults committed by men are recorded as female crimes, the grotesque unfairness of allowing males to compete in female sports, the injustice of women’s jobs, honours and opportunities being taken by trans-identified men, and the reality and immutability of biological sex.”

Police trained on Hate Crime Act for two hours

Humza Yousaf, the First Minister, oversaw the passage of the hate crime legislation at Holyrood in 2021, when he was justice secretary in Nicola Sturgeon’s government.

The Act was supported by almost all SNP and Labour MSPs. However, it did not come into force until Monday, as Police Scotland said it needed time for training. A third of officers have still not completed the two-hour training course.

The Act creates a criminal offence of “stirring up of hatred”, expanding on a similar offence based on racist abuse that has been on the statute book for decades.

The legislation extends this to other grounds on the basis of age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation or transgender identity. Someone convicted of stirring up hate could face a fine and a prison term of up to seven years.

An amendment to add sex to the list of protected characteristics was voted down, despite cross-party MSPs raising concerns about why women were excluded.

Concerns have also been expressed that the legislation’s definition of a hate crime is too ambiguous, potentially leading to a “chilling” effect on freedom of speech and a torrent of vexatious complaints being made to police. In particular, Rowling’s allies have suggested that trans activists have her “in their sights”.

Rowling said Scottish women had been pressured by the SNP Government and the police to “deny the evidence of their eyes and ears, repudiate biological facts and embrace a neo-religious concept of gender that is unprovable and untestable”.

The policy of self-identification had “serious consequences” for women’s rights and safe spaces, she said, with the “strongest impact” being felt by female prisoners and rape survivors.

“It is impossible to accurately describe or tackle the reality of violence and sexual violence committed against women and girls, or address the current assault on women’s and girls’ rights, unless we are allowed to call a man a man,” she said.

Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary, added: “It is a truly awful piece of legislation. It will place unnecessary pressure on our already overstretched police force and it will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.

“Scotland is famous for an irreverent sense of humour and a love of robust debate. I fear these great traits of ours will be crushed by this authoritarian Nationalist administration.”

Siobhian Brown, the SNP’s community safety minister, initially stated that misgendering would “not at all” fall foul of the legislation but then admitted it would be for the police to decide.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It could be reported and it could be investigated. Whether or not the police would think it was criminal is up to Police Scotland for that.”

Siobhian Brown, Minister for Victims and Community Safety
Siobhian Brown, the minister for victims and community safety, has said it would be up to police to decide if views on gender issues are criminal - sst/alamy live news

However, she said there was a “very high threshold” of criminality in the legislation of being “threatening and abusive”, and people would not be prosecuted for expressing a “challenging or offensive” opinion.

Justin Webb, who conducted the interview with Ms Brown, was found in February to have broken impartiality rules by calling trans women “males” on air.

The BBC upheld a complaint against the Today presenter after he said “trans women, in other words, males” on the Radio 4 programme last August.

A listener complained that the comment amounted to Mr Webb giving his personal view on a controversial matter in breach of the BBC’s requirements on impartiality.

On Monday, protesters gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to demonstrate against the Act’s introduction, but Mr Yousaf claimed it was needed thanks to “a rising tide of hatred against the people because of their protected characteristics”.

Protesters have come out in force against the SNP's Hate Crime Act
Protesters have come out in force against the SNP's Hate Crime Act - Lesley Martin/PA

“Unless your behaviour is threatening or abusive and intends to stir up hatred, then you have nothing to worry about in terms of the new offence that has been created,” he told Sky News.

Pressed on Rowling’s views, he said the police would investigate if a crime had been committed and the Crown Office would decide “if there is a sufficiency of evidence to charge”.

Jim Sillars, the SNP’s former deputy leader, has launched a campaign to “resist the Hate Crime Act and campaign for its repeal”. He said: “Humza Yousaf’s Hate Crime Act inflicts a deep wound on the face of Scottish society.”

Police Scotland did not reveal how many reports of crime it had received on the first day the act came into force.


Commentary: Rowling's 'come and get me' retort to Hate Crime Act is direct challenge to Yousaf

Read more

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 3 months with unlimited access to our award-winning website, exclusive app, money-saving offers and more.