Suffolk MPs vote against changes to Gay Marriage and abortion in Ulster

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge. Picture:Sarah Lucy Brown

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge. Picture:Sarah Lucy Brown

Two of Suffolk’s MPs joined a minority of their colleagues to oppose bringing Northern Ireland’s strict rules on Gay Marriage and abortion rights into line with the rest of the UK.

South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge and Suffolk Coastal's Dr Therese Coffey voted against allowing Gay Marriage in Northern Ireland and relaxing its abortion laws which currently ban the procedure in all but the most extreme cases.

These issues are matters for the Northern Ireland Assembly - but that has not met since January 2017 and despite attempts to bring parties together again there is no prospect of its resumption in the near future.

Motions put forward by two Labour MPs said that if the Assembly is not restored by October 21, the government should legislate to allow Gay Marriage and liberalise abortion in Northern Ireland - on condition that a future Assembly could overturn the decision or amend the law.

These were overwhelmingly approved - Gay Marriage in Northern Ireland was backed by 383 votes to 73 while relaxing the abortion law was backed by 332 to 99.

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Mr Cartlidge said he opposed the changes because Westminster should not get involved in issues that should be dealt with by the devolved Assembly.

He said: "This is effectively extending direct rule in Northern Ireland and I think we are all aware of what a major issue that is in that particular part of the UK."

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His vote was on the constitutional issue of Westminster not taking back Assembly powers - and did not represent his views on the individual issues. MPs had a free vote on the two matters.

Mr Cartlidge did acknowledge that by passing the vote there was a chance that it could prompt Northern Irish politicians to make another attempt to get the Assembly up and running again.

Dr Coffey - a prominent lay Catholic in the House of Commons - said the constitutional issue was central to the debate.

She said: "I support devolution and this is a devolved matter. I think the UK Parliament should not be exercising direct rule on this issue, which in effect it has."

The issue was raised during the ITV leadership debate last night. Jeremy Hunt said he supported the move to change the laws while Boris Johnson said it should remain a matter for the Assembly.

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