Rishi Sunak’s government has been ridiculed for introducing a “toilet tsar” while ministers announced an attempt to crack down on gender-neutral public toilets.
New shops, public buildings and offices will be ordered to have gender-segregated toilets as the Prime Minister and his Equality Minister Kemi Badenoch engage in a “culture war” with transgender rights groups over the matter.
But the latest ideas risked being ridiculed compared to former Tory Prime Minister John Major’s “cone hotline” fiasco in the early 1990s, which addressed minor transport issues during a severe economic recession.
Damian McBride, former adviser to Labor leader Gordon Brown, scoffed at Britain being the “first country in the world to appoint its own ‘toilet czar'”, adding: “I bet you didn’t have that on your Tory Summer bingo card.”
James Asser, Labor Deputy Mayor on Newham Council, compared this to Sir John’s much-ridiculed initiative, which allowed the public to ring up and ask about traffic cones at roadworks. “Toilet tsar? We are now in Cones hotline territory,” he tweeted.
At the start of her new crackdown, Ms Badenoch said the proliferation of gender-neutral toilets had eliminated the “fundamental right” of women and girls to “privacy, dignity and safety”.
Trans rights groups have argued that gender-neutral restrooms can help combat discrimination, as trans people may have difficulty using men’s or women’s restrooms.
However, the Sunak government argues that shared cubicles and hand-washing facilities have raised “concerns about their dignity and their privacy” among women who feel “unjustifiably disadvantaged”.
Promising to stop the proliferation of gender-neutral facilities, the government is changing regulations so that all new non-residential buildings must offer separate, gender-separated toilets for women and men.
New builds should provide self-contained, private unisex toilets where space allows – but not at the expense of gender-segregated toilets.
“It is important that everyone enjoys privacy and dignity when using public facilities,” Ms Badenoch said. “But the trend towards ‘gender-neutral’ toilets has eliminated this fundamental right for women and girls.”
Separately, the government plans to appoint a toilet commissioner – dubbed the toilet czar – to deal with the council’s closure of public facilities.
About 10 per cent of municipalities’ public toilets are thought to have remained closed in the wake of the Covid pandemic, while longer-term cuts mean availability has fallen by 60 per cent since 2011.
As part of the Leveling and Remediation Act, the Toilet Czar will work with an Advisory Board to develop a strategic plan to reverse this decline.
Former government adviser Sam Freedman ridiculed the Tories for complaining about an “over-centralized state” while “someone in Whitehall is telling councils how many toilets to open”.
The government has previously been accused of using gender-neutral toilets and other transgender issues to foment divisions in the war on “wokeism”.
Labour’s Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, said so The Independent in June that Mr Sunak was exploiting the transgender debate as “a key issue in an ugly culture war”.
The PM has also been accused of transphobia after a leaked video poked fun at Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey for “trying to convince everyone that women clearly had penises”.
After the clip surfaced, the Liberal Democrat accused the Prime Minister of treating trans people like a “punch line”. But No 10 insisted the joke was at Mr Davey’s expense and not at the expense of a minority.
The government is preparing to finally present new guidance on transgender issues to schools at the next parliamentary session next month.
The delay document is widely expected to tell school leaders to consult parents when their child expresses a desire to transition socially to a different gender so that they can choose a different pronoun or name.