In the face of a possible rebellion over an amendment to the Queen’s Speech, the Government has backed down. Chancellor Philip Hammond announced this afternoon that women from Northern Ireland will be given the right to an abortion in England on the NHS. This wasn’t a change ministers wanted, but for a weak minority Government propped up by the slenderest of margins, this is the new reality. It’s unlikely this will be the last time in this Parliament that ministers relent where they would have once stood their ground.
Ever since the amendment was tabled by Labour MP Stella Creasy, the Government had looked under pressure. There were reports that as many as 40 Tory MPs could rebel on the issue. Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said earlier that the amendment was being looked at closely, and it seems the government was worried enough about a rebellion not to attempt to face it down.
As Katy Balls pointed out earlier, even if the Government had been defeated on this amendment, it wouldn’t have been game over; the DUP would have still been expected to back the Queen’s Speech. Yet the Government’s decision to give in should undoubtedly be seen as a sign of things to come. With their majority a thing of the past, the PM will have to consider very carefully which battles to pick. What’s more, the speed with which this amendment was allowed (even Stella Creasy was seemingly taken aback by how quickly things changed this afternoon) could inspire others to table similar amendments in the Commons. The Government had better get used to this new way of doing business.