Stella Creasy Warns That Northern Irish Women’s Lives Are Being Used As A Bargaining Chip In Brexit Negotiations

'To get DUP support this week- the government are going to wash their hands of responsibility to regulate abortion in Northern Ireland.’

Stella Creasy

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, has warned that women’s lives are being ‘shamefully’ used as bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations as Boris Johnson attempts to win support for his latest Brexit deal. She says that the government is promising to ‘wash their hands’ of the responsibility to regulate abortion law in Northern Ireland, in order to curry favour with the DUP.

‘Now in parliament to try to find out why all of a sudden government trying to get Northern Ireland assembly up and running and using the possibility of stopping equal abortion access in Northern Ireland as bargaining chip,’ Creasy tweeted last night. ‘To get @DUPleader support this week- they are going to wash their hands of responsibility to regulate abortion in Northern Ireland.’

The responsibility of regulating abortion law in Northern Ireland is currently up in the air after it was agreed earlier this year that the government in Westminster can take control of the issue if the Northern Ireland Assembly (commonly referred to as Stormont) is still suspended by 21 October.

Creasy was monumental in pushing this decision through, leading the Commons to agree to amend the Northern Ireland (executive formation) bill – a historical moment in politics. It was assumed that the Northern Ireland Assembly would remain suspended given there have not been any successful moves to restore the Assembly since its collapse in January 2017.

However, Creasy has said that in the last few days the government is attempting to restore Stormont – with Secretary of State Priti Patel travelling to Northern Ireland to engage in party talks.

It’s coincidental timing given Boris Johnson has just reached a new Brexit deal that is waiting for parliamentary approval. Given the DUP is a pro-life party, and is an important party to win over for the Brexit deal to pass, Creasy implies that Johnson is attempting to win over the DUP by promising to help restore Stormont and essentially put abortion regulation back in the hands of Northern Ireland’s devolved government.

It goes without saying that the Northern Ireland Assembly has a long history of denying women the right to abortion, and should they regain responsibility for the issue would likely overturn all of the hard work women’s rights activists have done to extend the human right to women in the region. Currently, abortion law in Northern Ireland breaches human rights legislation as it is a criminal act to have one – including in instances of rape.

'We are just days away from Northern Ireland finally having a legal framework which will protect vulnerable women from criminalisation and enable the development of local abortion services. Women of Northern Ireland have waited decades for this change, and it is heart-breaking that it could be taken away at the last minute via a dodgy backroom deal,' Katherine O'Brien, associate director of communications and campaigns at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service told Grazia.

'The UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, CEDAW, has made it perfectly clear that the UK Government in Westminster has a responsibility to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland, and polling has repeatedly demonstrated that the people of Northern Ireland support reform', she continued. 'Any attempt to use UK citizens’ human rights as a political bargaining chip will not be forgiven.'

Northern Ireland minister Robin Walker has denied that abortion regulation is being used as a bargaining chip for Brexit negotiations after Creasy challenged him in the House of Commons.

‘The last time that there were official cross-party talks was in July, we are now literally five days away from this Bill becoming an act and therefore the provisions around abortion and same-sex marriage being extended to Northern Ireland,’ Creasy said after Walker raised the prospect of renewed talks in the Commons. ‘What could it possibly be in the next couple of days that has suddenly made the government to have such a renewed vigour in these talks, and to offer the idea that abortion could be suspended for Northern Ireland, to the people, when there’s a Brexit deal to be done?’

According to The Mirror, Walker replied, ‘I would prefer and the Government would prefer that the Northern Ireland Assembly was considering reforms of Northern Ireland's abortion law - this is, as I have noted, a highly sensitive and devolved issue and as such, would be best addressed by Northern Ireland's locally elected, locally accountable political representatives.’

‘In the absence of a restored assembly and executive the Secretary of State has taken steps to ensure the Government is ready to ensure its obligations,’ he concluded.

Grazia has reached out to Boris Johnson’s press team and the Northern Ireland Office for comment.


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