Week in Review: Abortion amendment shows how easily government can be hurt

"Any pretence of being 'strong and stable' has long gone, this is now about survival"
"Any pretence of being 'strong and stable' has long gone, this is now about survival"
Natalie Bloomer By

"She has brought to the House an injustice – and we will put that injustice right." These were the words of business secretary Greg Clark about Stella Creasy's amendment to the Queen's Speech, which would allow Northern Irish women an abortion on the NHS.

Listening to Clark you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was an issue that Tory ministers had been unaware of before it was brought it to their attention. But just a few weeks ago, health secretary Jeremy Hunt was in court defending the government's policy of not funding terminations for women from Northern Ireland. He accepted during that case that it was within his power to change this, but refused to do so. Hardly the act of a government desperate to put right an "injustice".



Creasy's amendment was a master stroke. She knew that she had cross-party support - there was talk of about 40 Conservative MPs willing to rebel - and she knew that it would be a tricky issue to navigate for Theresa May. Telling women in one part of the UK that they aren't entitled to something that is freely available everywhere else isn't a good look for a prime minister who has repeatedly told us she is all about fairness.

But what made this even more difficult for May was that her new friends in the DUP were firmly against it. Not only did Creasy manage to put the Conservatives under pressure on this particular issue, she also shone a light on the tensions that could easily arise from May's confidence and supply deal with the Northern Irish party.

In the end, the government avoided a damaging defeat by announcing ahead of the vote that it would indeed begin to fund abortions for Northern Irish women. It was job done for Creasy and she withdrew her amendment. This is something campaigners have been battling for for years. Yet in the space of just a few hours, one MP won the fight. As Ian Dunt wrote earlier today about the Brexit amendments, we are now seeing just how important every member of the house will be in this parliament.

May has a working majority - but only just. Any pretence of being 'strong and stable' has long gone, this is now about survival. Don't be fooled into thinking yesterday's U-turn was a principled decision. If that was the case, the government wouldn't have spent God knows how much money challenging the very same issue in court just a few weeks ago. No: this was a move by a weak prime minister who will do whatever is necessary to cling on to power.

MPs from all sides will now be looking on with glee and wondering what issues they can force her hand on next.

Natalie Bloomer is a journalist for Politics.co.uk. You can follow her on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.


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