Labour MPs hijack Northern Ireland bill in stunt to further extreme abortion agenda
25 October 2018
Diana Johnson (left) supports Stella Creasy introducing her amendment to the Northern Ireland bill.
"It is unconstitutional, legally incoherent, untimely, and unwanted."
Following Diana Johnson's abortion decriminalisation bill on Tuesday, pro-abortion MPs yesterday made another attempt to impose abortion on Northern Ireland through the backdoor.
What's the background?
Over the weekend it emerged that Labour MPs Stella Creasy and Conor McGinn had tabled amendments calling for abortion and same-sex marriage to a Northern Ireland bill being debated on Wednesday. The two English MPs made an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) bill - which is aimed at giving officials greater powers in the absence of a Stormont assembly- asking Karen Bradley, the Northern Ireland secretary, to "make provision" for repealing the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which would decriminalise abortion.
What happened yesterday
It appears that Ms Creasy was told that this amendment fell outside the scope of the bill, and she replaced it with a clause (New Clause 7) which requires the Secretary of State to issue guidance to senior officials in Northern Ireland departments on "the incompatibility of the human rights of the people of Northern Ireland" in relation to abortion law and the law on marriage.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, despite supporting a change in abortion law in Northern Ireland herself, spoke against the clause, saying "however, I do not think that it should be made through the Bill or the new clause." She said that it was flawed, as the bill does not allow for the law to be changed, and would put the civil service, who do not have the power to change the law, "in an impossible position". In answer to a question by Fiona Bruce MP (who, along with DUP MPs, opposed the clause), Ms Bradley said: "Civil servants will not be able to change the law: they do not have the power to change the law and we do not want them to have that power." She confirmed: "the amendment as drafted would not see a change in the law in Northern Ireland."
Despite the minister's opposition, the amendment passed by 207 to 117. All MPs had a free vote, although the Labour shadow minister and the party leader Jeremy Corbyn officially backed the clause. (See how MPs voted here.) 26 MPs then voted against the entire bill in protest at the inclusion of the clause, including all DUP MPs, 15 Conservatives (who defied a three-line whip to do so) and Labour MPs Mary Glindon, Rachel Maskell and Fiona Onasanya. (See how MPs voted here).
SPUC's Northern Ireland officer Liam Gibson slammed the move as "underhand and an affront to the rule of law."
"It makes a mockery of a Bill which was supposedly intended to help re-establish the devolved institutions, but now smuggles in confusing provisions that make no sense," he said. "Any guidance is meaningless in the face of the rule of law which must be upheld."
John Deighan SPUC’s Deputy CEO spoke afterwards on radio about the implications of the vote noting the confusing nature of the amendment.
The Diana Johnson bill
The stunt came the day after Diana Johnson introduced her ten-minute rule bill on decriminalising abortion. It was opposed by Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, who said that despite Ms Johnson's claims to the contrary, the bill interfered with devolution. She also said that the bill would allow abortion for any or no reason up to five months of pregnancy, including for sex-selection. She concluded: "We must vote against this bill. It is unconstitutional, legally incoherent, untimely, and unwanted."
The bill passed to its second reading by 208 votes to 123, but ten minute rule bills have very little chance of making it to the statute book. SPUC's Antonia Tully said that what "Diana Johnson is proposing is a bleak, uncaring solution for women facing a crisis pregnancy."
"While it is disappointing that the vote went in Diana Johnson’s favour, we will not be giving up our campaign to stop the measures in this bill making progress in Parliament."
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