Theresa May should resist pressure to impose reform of abortion laws on Northern Ireland, prominent Conservative backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.
Following last week’s overwhelming vote in favour of legal abortion in the Republic, the PM has faced calls from within her own party to deliver similar rights to women north of the border.
Labour’s Baroness Chakrabarti said that the PM, as a “self-identifying feminist”, should legislate without delay to liberalise laws in Northern Ireland, where terminations are currently permitted only if a woman’s life is at risk or there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health.
Mr Rees-Mogg, a staunch Roman Catholic who opposes abortion as a matter of principle, said he was “saddened” by the referendum result in Ireland.
And he insisted it should be a matter for Northern Irish politicians to decide whether to relax the current restrictions.
He urged Mrs May to encourage all parties in Northern Ireland to restore devolved institutions including the Assembly, which has been suspended since January 2017.
“This issue is really one of devolution,” the North-East Somerset MP told LBC radio.
“This responsibility is devolved to Northern Ireland and if you respect our constitutional settlement then these issues ought to be decided in the right place.
“I’m aware that the Assembly isn’t currently sitting, but this is one of the reasons for encouraging Northern Irish politicians to bring their Assembly back together, so that they can settle these issues that are their responsibility.”
The Prime Minister faces a political headache over the issue because her fragile administration depends on the support in the House of Commons of the 10 Democratic Unionist Party MPs, who strongly oppose any reform to Northern Ireland’s strict laws.
Downing Street believes that any reform in Northern Ireland “is an issue for Northern Ireland”, a source said, adding “it shows one of the important reasons we need a functioning executive back up and running”.
Mr Rees-Mogg said Lady Chakrabarti was seeking to “ignore a very important part of the constitution”.
“I think once you start picking and choosing on the devolution settlement, you might find that you do great damage to the Union,” he warned.
“What if this was Scotland? What would be the result in Scotland if English MPs decided that they would overturn some policy of the SNP? I think it’s quite a dangerous approach to take in terms of our constitutional settlement.”
Restating his personal opposition to abortion, he said: “I believe that life starts at the point of conception and life within the womb is worthy of protection.
“I was saddened by the result in the Republic of Ireland.”
Pic by Niall Carson/PA Wire