MPs tonight voted to make same-sex marriage and abortion legal in Northern Ireland – despite fury that they are ‘driving a coach and horses’ through the devolution settlement.
By a margin of 383 to 73 the Commons backed an amendment demanding the province be brought into line with the rest of the UK by October 21 – unless Stormont returns and decides otherwise.
The House also endorsed a move to liberalise abortion laws by 352 to 99 in another crucial vote.
The dramatic results came after MPs ‘hijacked’ a government Bill in a bid to force the changes in Northern Ireland.
But the DUP has accused them of abusing the impasse at Stormont to impose Westminster’s will.
Two key amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill were pushed in the House of Commons tonight.
Tory MPs had been given a free vote as they are regarded as issues of conscience.
After the success of the amendment pushed by Labour MP Conor McGinn, ministers will be obliged to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland by October 21 if a new Stormont Executive has not been formed.
MPs endorsed moves to legalise same-sex marriage and liberalise abortion laws in Northern Ireland tonight
Labour backbencher Stella Creasy (left) tabled an amendment on abortion, while Labour MP Conor McGinn successfully passed a change demanding legalisation of same-sex marriage
Health Secretary Matt Hancock declared his delight at the decision by the Commons tonight. Tory MPs were given a free vote as the amendments were regarded as conscience issues
It has been law in the rest of the UK since 2014.
Meanwhile, fellow Labour backbencher Stella Creasy stewarded a change to ensure all women in Northern Ireland are able to access abortion services.
Currently abortion is banned in Northern Ireland under almost all circumstances. In the rest of the UK, abortion was legalised in 1967.
Ms Creasy’s amendment argued that the UK government was obliged to legalise abortion services to comply with international human rights obligations.
It say ministers will have to put down a statutory instrument changing the law in Northern Ireland by October 21 unless there is a Stormont functional assembly.
During a tense Commons debate, Mr McGinn said MPs had been failing the LGBT community.
The St Helens North MP said: ‘This House has failed LGBT people in Northern Ireland before.
‘It failed a generation of people in Northern Ireland by not decriminalising homosexuality and condemn them to discrimination, to abuse and to living in fear many years after that stopped to be the case in the rest of the UK.
‘It failed people in Northern Ireland by not extending same-sex marriage when it became the law here making people in Northern Ireland less valued than the rest of us.
MPs step into vacuum left by political impasse at Stormont
MPs have waded in to take control of gay marriage and abortion laws in Northern Ireland after its own institutions effectively ground to a halt.
Power sharing between the DUP and Sinn Fein fell to pieces in January 2017.
The initial trigger was a scandal about an environmental subsidy scheme – but the spat soon snowballed.
A series of efforts to get the executive back up and running have failed, and pressure has been growing on the UK government to resume direct rule.
The amendments passed by the Commons tonight will force changes on gay marriage and abortion if Stormont is not restored by a deadline of October 21.
At that point the Northern Ireland Secretary will be obliged to table secondary legislation shifting the rules – which will not require a positive vote.
However, with Sinn Fein and the DUP dug into conflicting positions on a range of issues there appears to be little prospect of that happening.
‘Tonight, we have a chance to do the right thing. People in Northern Ireland – and indeed across Britain and Ireland – are watching.
‘I for one am not going to let them down and I hope colleagues in this House don’t let them down.’
‘I am a passionate defender of women’s rights, I believe powerfully that if women are not able to have equal control over their bodies as men are then we will never have true freedom,’ she said.
‘If we say to women we will force you to continue an unwanted pregnancy, they will always be second class citizens to male counterparts.’
Ms Creasy said the UN torture committee has ‘censured’ the UK over abortion rules in Northern Ireland, saying the way women are treated is ‘torturous’.
She added: ‘At this moment in time, if somebody is raped in Northern Ireland and they become pregnant and they seek a termination, they will face a longer prison sentence than their attacker.’
However, DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said the Commons imposing its will on Northern Ireland ‘drives a coach and horses through the principle of devolution’ and amounted to ‘overriding the concerns’ of the people.
Independent unionist MP (North Down) Lady Sylvia Hermon said her constituents were concerned about the damage this vote could have on the devolution settlement.
She added: ‘They are greatly concerned that this amendment might undermine the devolved settlement in Northern Ireland.’
The division list for the abortion amendment showed it was supported by 210 Labour MPs, 72 Conservatives, 11 Independents, 20 SNP, four Change UK, 10 Liberal Democrats, four Plaid Cymru and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.
The list added 84 Conservatives voted against the amendment along with Independent Lady Hermon (North Down), five Labour, eight DUP and two SNP MPs.
DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds said the Commons imposing its will on Northern Ireland ‘drives a coach and horses through the principle of devolution’ and amounted to ‘overriding the concerns’ of the people
The DUP and religious leaders believe marriage is between a man and woman and point out that civil partnerships are an option for same-sex couples.
Sinn Fein and a coalition of civic society activists believe the change is an issue of equality and human rights.
After MPs voted in favour of her abortion bill, Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted: ‘Thank you to everyone who today stood up for equality in Northern Ireland – whether for same sex marriage or abortion, today we have said everyone in the UK deserves to be treated as an equal. There’s a road to go yet but today a big step forward #TheNorthISNext #LoveEquality.’
Director of The Rainbow Project and member of the Love Equality civic campaign John O’Doherty said: ‘Parliament has always had the power to legislate for marriage equality in Northern Ireland and we are glad the House of Commons has seen sense and voted to give people in Northern Ireland the same freedoms enjoyed by everyone else in these islands.
‘All love is equal and we are proud to celebrate this achievement with our community, friends, colleagues and allies from across these islands.
‘Our future got a little brighter today and we hope that LGBT people across Northern Ireland will wake up tomorrow feeling more hopeful for the future we all want to see.’