MPs in Westminster have voted in favour of reform to abortion and marriage laws in Northern Ireland that could lead to the province having to comply with human rights legislation that applies in the rest of the UK.
MPs approved Labour’s Stella Creasy’s amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill by 207 votes to 117 – a majority of 90.
The move stipulates that in the absence of devolved rule in Belfast, the UK Government can direct officials on the ‘incompatability’ of human rights law and the continued curbs on abortion and gay marriage.
Creasy and fellow Labour MP Conor McGinn were joined by Conservative backbencher Tom Tugendhat as the lead signatories to the amendment, underlining the cross-party support for the move.
But some Tories warned the proposal had the “potential to undermine devolution” amid DUP discontent with interference with the devolution settlement.
The Conservative Party gave MPs a ‘free vote’ on the issue, allowing ministers to vote with their conscience rather than the party line. Reports suggested International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt voting to back the amendment.
The legislation will give civil servants greater clarity over what decisions they can take in the ongoing absence of ministers; enable UK Government ministers to make a number of stalled public appointments; and remove a standing obligation on Mrs Bradley to call another snap Assembly election.
While the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill is designed to partly address the governance vacuum created by the collapse of powersharing, and provide breathing space for the region’s rowing politicians to resume negotiations, Ms Creasy and Labour colleague Conor McGinn are hoping to use it as a vehicle to deliver wider social change.
— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) October 24, 2018
Their amendment seeks to force the Government, in the absence of devolved ministers, to act to reform Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws and end the ban on same-sex marriage, insisting both run contrary to the human rights of local people.