Update! Shock victory for free abortions in England for NI women as the government suddenly caves in to cross party pressure

The chancellor has just announced that the government intends to fund abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland.

I recommend scrolling down the Guardian Live for the sequence of events ending in reverse order with the splash in George Osborne’s Evening  Standard, “Abortion Vote Chaos Hits May.”

The Guardian believes this was done so fast and unexpectedly  to avoid  a Commons defeat on the Queen’s Speech, with some Tories supporting a Labour amendment  to introduce it. It carries a letter from the minister for women Justine Greening confirming the move.

It had also been foreshadowed by the leader of the the Commons Andrea Leadsom

In Westminster terms this is  a major victory  for cross party pressure on a minority government. It will  have been accepted partly to reconcile  some Conservative MPs to an otherwise toxic deal with the DUP.

IN Stormont terms the lack of resistance  from the DUP can be  seen as a limited conciliation gesture  to supporters  of elective abortion at an important juncture  , even though as the Appeal Court has just ruled, it means no immediate change in Northern Ireland itself. Pressure will mount there too although it remains a hard nut to crack. It is also an answer to critics including Sinn Fein that  the DUP never move an inch. They do, at least when they have little choice.

Above all it is a quite a victory for our women in need.

More than 50 MPs from the major parties had backed a call for Northern Irish women to have abortions for free in England – they currently have to pay.

In Northern Ireland abortions are only allowed if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her physical or mental health.

The government has been under pressure since agreeing a deal with the DUP.

The concession came ahead of a vote on the issue in the Commons after an amendment on the issue was selected for debate on the Queen’s Speech.

Since the election Theresa May no longer has a majority of MPs so has to rely on backing from the 10 DUP MPs – but even then she remains vulnerable to a rebellion from her own side.

Philip Hammond was responding to a question from the Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley, who asked why “only the poor should be denied lawful abortions”.

He was among MPs from various parties to sign an amendment, co-ordinated by Labour’s Stella Creasy, calling on the government to allow women in Northern Ireland to have abortions for free in England, instead of being charged as they are now.

Mr Hammond told him that Justine Greening, the minister for women and equalities, “either has made or is just about to make an announcement by way of a letter to members of this house explaining that she intends to intervene to fund abortions in England for women arriving here from Northern Ireland”.

Ahead of the Queen’s Speech debate, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs the Equalities Department and the Department of Health were “discussing and looking very closely” at the issue of abortion in Northern Ireland.

This was in response to former Conservative women’s minister Maria Miller who asked for a statement on the matter.

Pressure has been building since the government agreed the £1bn deal with the DUP. The minority Conservative government is facing a series of challenges as it attempts to get its Queen’s Speech through Parliament.

 

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London