Is Theresa May a feminist? That’s the question that’s dominating Westminster today following the Prime Minister’s reluctance to back reform of Northern Ireland’s strict abortion law. The Republic of Ireland’s decisive vote to overturn its own law on Friday has seen May come under pressure from Cabinet ministers and some of her own MPs to bring about such change on the other side of the Irish border.
Usually this would be a devolved matter but given that there is no power-sharing executive at Stormont – and there hasn’t been for almost 15 months – there are some who think the responsibility falls on the PM. Not No 10, however. Downing Street continues to insist that it is a devolved issue – and no decision should be taken from Westminster. Conveniently, the DUP – on whose support May relies for her working majority – take the same view.
The Opposition have been quick to go on the attack. Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti accused May of abandoning her fellow women – she said the ‘test of feminists is whether they stick up for all women’. For now, this appears to be a lose-lose situation for May. If John Bercow accepts an amendment on the issue from Labour’s Stella Creasy to the upcoming domestic abuse bill then the decision will be taken out of May’s hand and there will be a vote in the Commons regardless. In the meantime, May had best hope events overtake this row or that the deadlock at Stormont somehow breaks. The politics of the situation mean that if it continues in this way, it’s hard to see an upside for the Prime Minister – May is between a rock and a hard place.