PM holds talks with Tory MPs who want to liberalise NI abortion laws

Prime Minister Theresa May has held discussions on Northern Ireland’s strict abortion laws with Tory MPs pressing for change.

With the Commons set to hold an emergency debate on the issue, Mrs May faces pressure from within Conservative ranks to take action.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt, who was made Women and Equalities Minister in April, also attended the briefing in Downing Street on Monday.

Former home secretary Amber Rudd was present, along with ex-education secretary Justine Greening and Maria Miller, chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee.

Mrs May has so far resisted calls for Westminster to legislate to relax the abortion regime in Northern Ireland following last month’s landslide vote in the Irish Republic to liberalise its termination laws.

Downing Street has made it clear the Government believes the situation should be dealt with by Stormont once the Northern Ireland Assembly is restored.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose support Mrs May relies upon for a Commons majority, has insisted abortion is a devolved matter and not something Westminster should get involved with.

After the Irish Republic’s two-to-one backing for reform, Ms Mordaunt said the result signalled an “historic and great day for Ireland” and a “hopeful one for Northern Ireland”.

She added: “That hope must be met.”

Ms Greening said it is now time for “debate and action” to give women in Northern Ireland the same rights as the rest of the UK.

Education Minister Anne Milton suggested she would back liberalisation if there was a free vote, describing the current situation as “anomalous”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We want to see devolved government in Northern Ireland restored so that locally-elected, democratically accountable politicians can debate fundamental changes and the people of Northern Ireland have a direct say in the process.

“We recognise there are strongly-held views on all sides of the debate in Northern Ireland and that’s why our focus is on restoring that democratically-accountable devolved government.”

Labour has said it is “looking at legislative options” at Westminster which could force change in Northern Ireland.

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