Boris Johnson doesn't believe rape has 'effectively been decriminalised' under Tories

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer
·4 min read
 A protester holds a placard that says End Violence Against Women during the demonstration.
Crowds of people gathered in London to protest against the heavy-handed response by the police at the Sarah Everard vigil, as well as the government's new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which would give the police new powers to deal with protests. (Photo by Vuk Valcic / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A protester holds a placard during a demonstration against the heavy-handed response by the Metropolitan Police to the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common. (PA)

Boris Johnson has hit back at Labour claims that rape has “effectively been decriminalised” under the Conservative government.

On Tuesday, a tweet from the Labour Party made the assertion alongside figures showing how many charges of rape were brought in 2019-20 in England and Wales compared with the number of allegations made.

The tweet, which infuriated Tory MPs, read: “Under the Tories, rape has effectively been decriminalised. We need to do so much more to end violence against women and girls.”

When questioned about the tweet at Wednesday’s Prime Minister's Questions, Johnson called Labour's claim “a regrettable mistake”.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson said at PMQs that he did not believe rape had effectively been decriminalised in England and Wales. (Getty)

The tweet came months after similar comments made by the government’s own victims’ commissioner, Dame Vera Baird.

In a report published in July last year, Baird said rape had effectively been decriminalised because of a collapse in prosecutions, allowing many offenders to escape justice.

Watch: Hundreds protest in central London over government's police bill

Johnson said of Labour's tweet: “I think it was certainly a mistake, and a regrettable mistake, for anybody to suggest that rape had been decriminalised in this country, because we must do everything we can to reassure victims of rape and sexual violence and get them to come forward and that is what we’re doing.

“And I also think it would be a good thing if together we could vote for some of the tougher sentences that we’ve put forward in this bill.”

Tory MPs were quick to condemn Labour’s tweet on Tuesday evening, branding it “incredibly irresponsible” and “dangerous”.

Dehenna Davison, MP for Bishop Auckland, said: “This is not just fake news – this is dangerous.

“Has any thought been given to the fact this messaging in itself could discourage women from reporting rape and sexual assault?”

Tory party chair Amanda Milling added: “This is simply not true – and a disgusting thing to tweet.

“It’s incredibly irresponsible to spread this misinformation on such a sensitive topic.”

Nick Timothy, who served as Theresa May’s chief of staff when she was prime minister, tweeted: “A grown-up party of government has a duty to engage in debate responsibly.”

However, Labour MPs defended the content of the tweet, with several highlighting how the words came from the government-appointed victims’ commissioner.

In her report, Baird criticised the 3% charge rate for rape allegations made in 2019.

She wrote: “In effect, what we are witnessing is the decriminalisation of rape. In doing so, we are failing to give justice to thousands of complainants.

“In some cases, we are enabling persistent predatory sex offenders to go on to reoffend in the knowledge that they are highly unlikely to be held to account.

“This is likely to mean we are creating more victims as a result of our failure to act.”

The row over the tweet came as MPs voted in favour of the government's Policing Bill, which Labour says does not satisfactorily tackle the issue of violence against women.

The tweet was posted just minutes before the bill was voted on, with Labour voting against.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - MARCH 16, 2021: Protesters demonstrate in Parliament Square against the passage of a new policing bill in the House of Commons, which would give police new powers to restrict protests and impose tough sentences for breaking the rules, and to highlight the issue of violence against women, on 16 March, 2021 in London, England. The recent protests were sparked by the Met Polices heavily criticised handling of a vigil held in memory of murdered Sarah Everard in Clapham Common at the weekend amid an ongoing debate on women's safety in public spaces. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Protesters demonstrate in Parliament Square against the passage of a new policing bill in the House of Commons. (Getty)

Labour tabled an amendment intended to block the bill from being considered further, although this was defeated by 359 votes to 225.

The motion from Labour was based on support for some sections – such as tougher sentences for serious crimes including child murder – alongside warnings that the legislation “rushes” changes to protest law and “fails” to take action to protect women.

MPs debated the bill as hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Parliament Square to protest against it, in the latest public display of anger following the Metropolitan Police’s much-criticised handling of the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common on Saturday.

Watch: Starmer says Everard case is a 'watershed moment'