SNP MPs to vote on legalising same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomes her new SNP MPs to Westminster in 2017 (PA)

SNP MPs will be given a free vote on the issues of abortion reform and equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

At Westminster on Tuesday, MPs will vote on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which is designed to keep the country running while the devolved executive remains absent – having not functioned since March 2017.

As part of the Bill, it is possible for MPs to table amendments to progress issues such as abortion reform and equal marriage – although it is not guaranteed which amendments will be selected.

The SNP typically abstains on devolved issues, although an exception was made to vote in favour of maintaining a ban on fox hunting in England and Wales in 2015.

In the Northern Ireland Bill, a cross-party amendment tabled by Labour MP Conor McGinn is seeking to legalise same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland by the end of October if a new Stormont Executive is not formed by then.

Same-sex marriage was legalised in Scotland on March 12 2014, while England and Wales followed shortly afterwards by legalising it on March 29 that year.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Stella Creasy’s abortion reform amendment would look to ensure all women in Northern Ireland are able to access a safe, legal and local abortion if they want to do so.

In the rest of the UK, abortion was legalised in 1967.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford confirmed on Twitter he would be voting in favour of the amendments submitted by Mr McGinn and Ms Creasy.

He wrote: “For those asking, I strongly support equal marriage and women’s right to choose on abortion.

“I’m very proud that the SNP Government introduced the UK’s most progressive equal marriage law and that Scotland is the only part of the UK where couples from Northern Ireland can convert their civil partnership to a same-sex marriage.”

He added: “While the SNP will always defend the principle of devolution, there are a specific set of circumstances in Northern Ireland where there has been no functioning assembly for an extended period.

“In these circumstances, we believe it is right to give MPs a vote on these important human rights issues.

“If the amendments are called to a vote, I will be voting in favour.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon endorsed Mr Blackford’s position and outlined the importance of supporting human rights.

Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “I’m not in the House of Commons but if I was, I’d vote for amendments on NI equal marriage and women’s right to choose for the reasons Ian Blackford sets out here.

“I fully support devolution principle but there is no functioning NI Assembly just now and human rights matter.”

SNP MP Stewart McDonald said: “On the issues of equal marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland. SNP MPs will, in line with other parties, will exercise free votes.

“Given the situation in NI, this is the right thing to do. If the amendments are called I will vote in favour of both.”

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