POLITICS
27/05/2018 12:58 BST | Updated 13/07/2018 00:16 BST

Sunday Shows Round-Up: Tory Pressure Grows On Theresa May To Hold Vote On Northern Ireland Abortion Law

Also, Brexit.

Pressure is growing on Theresa May to give MPs the chance to liberalise abortion laws in Northern Ireland following the referendum result in the Republic.

Tory education minister Anne Milton used her appearances on the Sunday morning shows to push the prime minister to hold a free vote in parliament.

Also this morning Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted he is not a “menace” to Theresa May - but warned the prime minister to be tougher on Brussels. Tom Watson left open the possibility Labour might back EEA membership. Labour’s deputy leader also revealed how much weight he has lost and told Alastair Campbell he no longer decided party policy. 

This morning the Sunday Times reported women and equalities minister Penny Mordaunt and four of her Tory predecessors all back reform in Northern Ireland.

Abortions are currently only legal in Northern Ireland if the life or mental health of the mother is at risk.

Labour MP Stella Creasy has claimed more than 140 parliamentarians in Westminster had already signalled support for an effort to change the law.

Speaking to ITV’s Peston on Sunday, Milton added her voice to the demands. “I personally feel that you know it is an anomaly it’s odd that Northern Ireland sits out there flying in the face of what is a generally accepted view,” she said. “Abortion has always been a matter of free votes of Parliament and I would feel quite strongly that that should continue to be the case.”

Asked if she would vote to liberalse the law in Northern Ireland, she added:  “I have always believed that women have a right to choose on this matter and I have not heard anything that would change my mind.”

Milton made similar comments when appearing on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics.

May has not publicly commented on the result of the Irish vote, but Downing Street is said to believe that any reform “is an issue for Northern Ireland”.

The prime minister depends on the support of the DUP to keep her in power, and its MPs are strongly opposed to changing Northern Ireland’s abortion laws. 

Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the Commons Health Committee also said this morning the law in Northern Ireland should be changed.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, also told Sky News’ Sophie Ridge it was the woman who carries the child who had “right to make to the final decision”. But he claimed Westminster holding a vote would be “complex”.

And Justice Minister Rory Stewart warned against the Commons intervening. “It isn’t the job – and it would be very, very dangerous – for British politicians to be seen to be telling people in Northern Ireland how to vote,” he told BBC’s Sunday Politics.

The UK Government was acting as a “caretaker” administration in the absence of Stormont, and “that must not be used to make fundamental constitutional, ethical changes on behalf of the people in Northern Ireland”.

Jon Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show it was not “sustainable” for women in Northern Ireland to be denied the same abortion rights as those in other parts of the UK.

“These things are usually a free vote and have to be done in consultation with the parties of Northern Ireland but I would think that women in Northern Ireland should have the same rights that women here in England have and women have in the rest of Ireland,” he said.

“It would have to be a free vote but I would imagine a substantial number of Labour MPs probably would support that amendment, I mean I certainly would.”

Michelle O’Neill, the leader of Sinn Féin in the Northern Ireland Assembly, said she wanted the decision on abortion to be made in Stormont. But she said in the absence of the Assembly “we have to find a way to deliver rights”.

“The north is becoming a backwater, the north is becoming a society where if you want language rights, if you want same sex marriage, if you want women’s health dealt with, we’re being denied that because of the political unionism’s position on a rights-based society,” she said.

While the issue of abortion is a political headache for May, her troubles with Brexit remain the longer term problem.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading backbench Tory Brexiteer, this morning told Marr he was not a “menace” to May and said it was “ridiculous” to think he would challenge the prime minister for the leadership of the party.

However he did issue a warning. “I think we should be clear and stronger,” he said of the negotiations with the EU. “We are paying a very large amount of money, 40 billion pounds, and in return we want a trade deal,” he said.

“And therefore we should reiterate that and say quite clearly that if we don’t the trade deal we want you don’t get the money. And that’s a very strong negotiating position.”

Labour, of course, has its own internal fight going on about Brexit. Many of Jeremy Corbyn’s MPs want him to back continued membership of the single market by signing the UK up to the European Economic Area (EEA). Something he has ruled out.

A vote on this is set to take place when the EU Withdrawal Bill returns (eventually) to the Commons. 

Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, would not be pressed on whether Labour MPs would be ordered to oppose EEA membership. “We haven’t decided our whipping arrangements yet,” he told Peston. But asked if the option was open for Labour to back EEA membership he added: “I guess it is.” 

Peston devoted a large chunk of his interview with Watson to discussing wight loss. Labour’s deputy leader revealed he has lost 39 kilograms – despite putting butter in his coffee.

His new regime is known as Bulletproof coffee – usually made using butter – which is “a way of getting saturated fats into your diet which means you’re not as hungry during the day”.