Penny Mordaunt insists MPs will legalise abortion in Northern Ireland if ministers do not
Penny Mordaunt has said that Parliament will move to legalise abortion in Northern Ireland if the Government fails to act.
The Defence Secretary - who is also women and equalities minister - said she was sure MPs would force ministers to bring the province’s strict laws into line with the rest of the UK.
Her comments put her at odds with Tory leadership candidates Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt - who she is backing in the race to succeed Theresa May - after they both said it should be left to Stormont to deal with.
Ms Mordaunt said she believed Westminster politicians would act if the courts ruled that Northern Ireland’s anti-abortion laws were “incompatible” with human rights.
Campaigner Sarah Ewart launched a High Court challenge to the ban in January.
Speaking on Radio Four's Today programme, Ms Mordaunt said that British governments had moved to address laws found to be in breach of human rights rules "in every single case".
She said: “Parliament has been very vocal on this issue and if a government didn’t act, Parliament would and there would clearly be a free vote on that issue.
"I think this needs to be resolved, I think the paucity of care that women have endured in Northern Ireland is the most appalling thing and it must change.
"That is my view and if we have this ruling by the court I think Government will act.
"Certainly that has been the indication from the Northern Ireland Office who leads on these issues, but if the Government would not, Parliament would and clearly all members, including Prime Ministers, would have a free vote on that.”
Theresa May has repeatedly told campaigners that reform should be enacted by Stormont if and when the assembly is up-and-running again.
Mr Hunt - who personally supports reducing the time limit for abortions - told Conservative members at a hustings in Northern Ireland on Tuesday that he backed liberalisation on abortion and same-sex marriage in the province, but added: "This is a devolved matter and I think the best way to resolve this is to get the assembly back up and running."
Mr Johnson, the frontrunner in the race, told the same event: "This is for the people of Northern Ireland and their politicians."
On the Foreign Secretary’s view, Ms Mordaunt said: "I think he is right, but what I am saying is also right.
"The reason why this hasn’t been dealt with to date is because it is a devolved matter and we take devolution seriously."