PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Two-thirds of Tory Councillors do not want abortion laws imposed on Northern Ireland by Westminster
A poll from ComRes released today has revealed that two-thirds of Tory councillors (67%) support abortion remaining a devolved matter for Northern Ireland and believe that it should be up to politicians in Northern Ireland to decide whether or not to change the law on abortion in Northern Ireland.
The poll is likely an accurate proxy of voting sentiment among grassroots Conservatives. The results of the poll indicate that there is very little support from Conservative party members to impose abortion on Northern Ireland from Westminster.
The poll also showed the highest support for respecting devolution on this issue from the devolved regions (Wales and Scotland), with 86% supporting abortion being a devolved matter for politicians in Northern Ireland to decide.
The poll comes as Theresa May’s Government faces a major backlash from across the community in Northern Ireland against the Government’s plan to redraft the abortion clause in the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to introduce an extreme change to abortion law, likely ushering into Northern Ireland the most extreme abortion law in Europe.
This signals the end of the Government’s long-standing policy of neutrality on abortion. It also appears to be a departure from the Government’s position on respecting devolution.
On Wednesday, the Government announced in the House of Lords that it had identified the current abortion clause introduced by Stella Creasy would not introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland. In Parliament during the debate around the original amendment however the sponsor of the amendment, Stella Creasy made it very clear that she intended the scope of the amendment to be limited.
On Friday, it appeared the Government did not share the sponsor of the amendment’s view that the clause should be limited and were drafting their own Government secondary legislation to side-step devolution and impose abortion on demand directly on Northern Ireland.
It is possible that there would be a far higher percentage of Tory Councillors against this move if they were asked whether they would support the Conservative Government scrapping it’s neutral position on abortion and introducing Government secondary legislation to directly introduce abortion on demand to Northern Ireland without any involvement from the people of Northern Ireland.
The Government’s decision could also pose further issues for the incoming Prime Minister who will have to deal with a deeply unpopular change in policy initiated by Theresa May’s Government.
On Monday, Northern Irish peers will bring forward a number of amendments at Committee Stage of the Northern Ireland Bill in the House of Lords designed to block attempts to change abortion law in Northern Ireland from Westminster.
These include a motion from Northern Ireland peer Lord Morrow calling for the abortion clause to be removed from the Bill and an amendment from Baroness O’Loan requiring that the community in Northern Ireland be consulted, and a majority of MLAs must approve any legislation before it is laid before Parliament in Westminster.
The polling also reflects sentiment among the public in Northern Ireland with previous polling showing that a strong majority of women (66%) reject interference from Westminster on this sensitive issue, agreeing that this was a decision for Northern Ireland. The strongest support among age groups surveyed came from the youngest age group, 18-34 year olds, with 70% agreeing that they did not want abortion law imposed on Northern Ireland from Westminster.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has considered the issue of abortion much more recently than any parliaments in the United Kingdom. In 2016, a clear majority of the Northern Ireland Assembly, including both Unionists and Nationalists, upheld the law on abortion as it currently stands.
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Clare McCarthy said:
“The new polling clearly shows that the Government scrapping their long-held position of neutrality on abortion and drafting secondary legislation to impose abortion on Northern Ireland will be very unpopular among the Conservative Party membership. This shows that there is very strong support for respecting devolution and that any changes in Northern Ireland’s abortion laws should be made in Northern Ireland, not imposed by Westminster.
“Moreover, this polling echoes previous polling of Northern Irish people, with two-thirds of women rejecting interference from Westminster, believing that this is a decision for Northern Ireland.
“It is a reminder to the Government in Westminster that abortion remains a devolved issue in Northern Ireland. They have no mandate from the people of Northern Ireland to make any changes to Northern Ireland’s laws on abortion and all laws and policy regarding that issue should be decided by the people of Northern Ireland through their elected representatives.”
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- ComRes interviewed 510 Conservative Councillors online between 21st and 22nd June 2019. Data were weighted to be representative of all Conservative Councillors in Great Britain adults by region, council type and length of service. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
- The full data tables from the poll are available here: https://righttolife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/ComRes-poll-NI-abortion.pdf
- On Tuesday 100% of Northern Irish MP’s who take their seat in Westminster voted against Stella Creasy’s amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill.
- Full details on the proposed abortion law change and the impact of repealing sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act are available here: https://righttolife.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/Parliamentary-briefing-Abortion-amendment-to-Northern-Ireland-Executive-Formation-Bill-10-July-2.pdf