Since the election Theresa May no longer has a majority of MPs so has to rely on backing from the 10 DUP MPs – but even then she remains vulnerable to a rebellion from her own side.
Northern Ireland’s abortion law is much stricter than the rest of the UK – rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities are not circumstances in which they can be performed legally. Women in Northern Ireland seeking an abortion can travel to England to have one privately, but had not been allowed to do so free on the NHS – a position that was backed by the Supreme Court earlier this month.
In a debate on the Queen’s Speech on Thursday, Chancellor Philip Hammond was asked by the Conservative Sir Peter Bottomley, why, in the case of women from Northern Ireland, “only the poor should be denied lawful abortions”.
Sir Peter was among MPs from various parties to sign an amendment, co-ordinated by Labour’s Stella Creasy, calling on the government to allow women in Northern Ireland to have abortions for free in England, instead of being charged as they are now.
It was one of three amendments to the Queen’s Speech selected for a vote by the Speaker.
Mr Hammond told him that Justine Greening, the minister for women and equalities, “either has made or is just about to make an announcement by way of a letter to members of this house explaining that she intends to intervene to fund abortions in England for women arriving here from Northern Ireland”.
Another Queen’s Speech motion, from the Labour leadership, will call for several of the opposition’s manifesto pledges to be adopted, and for a Brexit that delivers the “exact same benefits” of the EU single market and customs union.
There will also be a vote on an amendment from Labour’s Chuka Umunna, which calls for the UK to remain in the single market and customs union after Brexit – although this is not the policy of Mr Umunna’s front bench.
Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, whose party made gains but still finished 55 seats behind the Conservatives in the election, said: “Theresa May does not have a mandate for continued cuts to our schools, hospitals, police and other vital public services or for a race-to-the-bottom Brexit.
“We invite MPs from across the House of Commons to take on board the strength of public opinion and desire for change in our country and vote for our amendment to bring forward policies to invest and improve public services, and put money in the pockets of the many not the few.”
In Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech debate, the government saw off Labour calls to scrap the public sector pay cap by a margin of 14 votes.
Votes on the Queen’s Speech establish whether a government commands the confidence of the House of Commons. If the Conservatives were to lose them, it could trigger another general election. They are not expected to lose the key one on Thursday because of the deal done with the DUP.
Mrs May, who is attending a meeting of fellow leaders ahead of next week’s G20 summit, says the “confidence and supply” arrangement with the DUP brings stability to the government as Brexit talks unfold.
But former education secretary Nicky Morgan has cast doubt on her long-term future, telling the BBC’s Newsnight that the party could consider the question of succession as early as October 2018.
“Once that shape of Brexit is concluded, once those deals are very much on the table, the Conservative party must not miss the opportunity at that stage to think about who we want to be our future leader,” she said.