Today, the Government will hold the second reading of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill. It’s being fast tracked through Parliament, with the following stages taking place tomorrow. Peers will examine the legislation next week.
The aims of the bill are tightly focused. It will change the law which states that there must be a new election to the NI Assembly by August 25, and pushes it back to 21 October, with an option of a further delay to January 2020. The Secretary of State must also inform the House of progress by October 21. As you can see, it is a narrow Bill, with a definitive purpose.
But pro-abortion MPs and the Labour front bench are attempting to hijack the legislation and have tabled certain amendments that would dramatically change the life-affirming laws in NI. It is thanks to these laws that there are 100,000 people alive today in NI, who would otherwise have been aborted.
This is a very serious moment. If MPs do override devolution in this manner, it would be a constitutional outrage. Here are five reasons MPs must resist this pressure:
1. Devolution must be respected
We have had a devolution settlement in the UK for 20 years. Over the last few decades, generally speaking, Westminster has not interfered in devolved matters. So why start now? Why would we undermine the settlement just to keep a minority of pro-abortion zealots happy? Moreover, the majority of MPs who will vote on these amendments do not even represent constituents from Northern Ireland. So not only would the vote undermine devolution, it would also be anti-democratic. Given widespread negative perception of Westminster at the moment, do MPs really want to do Parliament’s reputation further damage?
2. Human rights are devolved
The main argument advanced by the pro-abortion lobby seems to be that the lack of access to abortion services in NI is an abuse of human rights, and given how seriously human rights abuses must be taken, Westminster has a duty to intervene, thereby giving the unfortunate implication that human rights are not devolved. But in fact, if you study the Northern Ireland Act 1998, the founding document of the devolved settlement, it is clear human rights are devolved to the Assembly. Moreover, the report by CEDAW is being cited all the time as if this is the seminal document proving that NI’s abortion laws are an abuse of human rights. But an expert legal opinion makes it clear that the Convention doesn’t even mention abortion, and that the Committee’s recommendations are non-binding on the UK Government.
3. This is out of step with public opinion
MPs will want to take note that imposing a radical shift in abortion laws on the people of Northern Ireland is massively out of step with public opinion. Such a move would be very unpopular, as polling in NI shows that 64% of people, 66% of women and 70% of 18-30-year-old women believe it is wrong for Westminster to impose this law on the people of Northern Ireland.
4. Serious issues require proper debate
Changing NI’s abortion law is a weighty issue and requires proper debate. Not only is Westminster the wrong place for that debate, but rushed legislation that is being fast tracked through Parliament should also not be used in this underhand manner. There are powerful arguments to be heard on this topic and it is only right that a rigorous and intensive debate is held. The proper place for such a debate is the Assembly.
5. Old does not always equal bad
Changing the law in NI rests on the idea that the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is an old piece of legislation and therefore it is archaic and should be changed. This is the laziest sort of argument. It is based on the fallacy that old equals bad. Quite apart from the chronological snobbery on display, it is a weak argument. Our entire legal system is founded on the doctrine of precedent, and most of the laws underpinning our jurisdiction go back hundreds of years. The Magna Carta is old, but does that mean we just get rid of it? The Universal Declaration of human rights is relatively old, but does that mean it is now defunct?
Please join in us in stopping this threat
There is something decidedly deceptive and underhand about the way in which the pro-abortion lobby have gone about this. Their real agenda is full scale decriminalisation, where all remaining safeguards on abortion are removed, and they are using NI as a smokescreen for more radical change. MPs must resist the blatant pressure to use this important piece of legislation to change NI’s abortion law. Parliament should respect the rights of the people of Northern Ireland to make their own mind up when it comes to abortion.
Please write to your MP to ask them to oppose this attempt to underhandedly change the law in NI and undermine devolution.