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Theresa May ‘will not intervene in Northern Ireland abortion law’

Theresa May (Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Theresa May does not intend to force abortion on Northern Ireland, Downing Street has said.

A spokesman said the Prime Minister considered the issue a matter for the devolved Northern Ireland assembly, and would therefore not use Westminster’s powers to impose abortion on the province.

“The Prime Minister said on Sunday that the Irish referendum was an impressive show of democracy, which delivered a clear result, and she congratulated the Irish people on the decision,” the spokesman said. “But it’s important to recognise that the people of Northern Ireland are entitled to their own process, which is run by locally elected politicians.

“Our focus is restoring a democratically accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland so that locally accountable politicians can make decisions on behalf of the public they represent.”

The Northern Irish Assembly has been suspended for over a year after the province’s administration collapsed following a scandal over a renewable energy scheme. While it remains suspended, the UK parliament in Westminster has the power to legislate for Northern Ireland, but by convention it does not interfere in matters devolved to the Assembly.

However, pro-abortion Conservative MPs, with the backing of the Labour Party, attempted to persuade Theresa May to ignore the convention and change Northern Irish law in the wake of the referendum in the Irish Republic.

MPs may yet try to force it through by tabling an amendment to the forthcoming domestic violence bill, which could have the effect of violating another parliamentary convention by bringing a whipped vote on the issue.

Theresa May’s spokesman acknowledged that previous votes on abortion had not been whipped on party lines, but would not comment on what would happen if the amendment were voted on.

“Where Westminster has had votes in relation to this in the past there has been a free vote, but I’m not going to comment on hypothetical amendments,” he said.