Government will fund abortions in England for Northern Ireland women

Jeremy Corbyn
Jeremy Corbyn

The Government has announced it will fund abortions in England for women arriving from Northern Ireland in a concession to see off a bid to amend the Queen's Speech.

Ministers were facing a headache over an amendment tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy, calling on the Government to provide funding so women from Northern Ireland can have abortions in England without having to pay.

It had the formal backing of one Tory MP, Sir Peter Bottomley, while others expressed concerns over the issue, as abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland except where the life or mental health of the mother is in danger.

The Government's move, announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in the Commons, will be expected to satisfy Tory MPs enough to ensure that Ms Creasy's amendment does not pass, or she withdraws it.

Reacting to the news, the Labour MP tweeted: "Sisters in Northern Ireland we will hear your voices - have asked for speedy meeting with govt to make this a reality!"

She added: "Thank you to MPs on all sides who supported call for change to help northern Irish women have equal access to abortion."

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) did not respond to immediate requests for reaction, but the prospect of the amendment passing could have raised questions over its deal with the Tories to prop up the minority Government.

In that situation, the anti-abortion DUP would have been asked to vote for an amended Queen's Speech which would explicitly state that women from Northern Ireland could get free abortions in England.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn is facing a potential rebellion from Labour MPs lining up to back an amendment tabled by former shadow cabinet minister Chuka Umunna on Brexit.

A total of 43 Labour MPs have formally signed up to Mr Umunna's amendment, which supports continued membership of the single market and customs union.

But Labour's official policy is to leave the single market in order to end the free movement of European Union citizens, while aiming to retain the "exact same benefits" of the trade bloc.

Mr Corbyn has ordered his MPs to abstain on Mr Umunna's amendment, raising the prospect of a rebellion which will expose Labour splits on Brexit.

Tory MP Sir Peter said the Government has met the point of Ms Creasy's amendment.

He said: "(The) Government has rightly announced that there is a practical solution to the dilemma of poorer Northern Irish women funding a lawful termination in England.

"The practical solution of the Equalities Office and health commissioning and funding abortion services will bring justice, as indicated by the judges in the Supreme Court judgment.

"Many Conservatives, including senior women, have worked with Stella Creasy MP for Walthamstow and her supporters with the specialist charities to achieve this fast progress."

Tory MP Sir Peter said the Government has met the point of Ms Creasy's amendment.

He said: "(The) Government has rightly announced that there is a practical solution to the dilemma of poorer Northern Irish women funding a lawful termination in England.

"The practical solution of the Equalities Office and health commissioning and funding abortion services will bring justice, as indicated by the judges in the Supreme Court judgment.

"Many Conservatives, including senior women, have worked with Stella Creasy MP for Walthamstow and her supporters with the specialist charities to achieve this fast progress."