By Charlotte King
The political deadlock arising from the Brexit negotiations and the ever-mounting tension among – not only between – parties has recently raised the question of whether we are living in a climate where our elected officials are working in the national interest, or if in fact we have entered an era of self-interest politics following negotiations over the newly drafted Domestic Abuse Bill, dubbed by the Government as ‘the most comprehensive package ever to tackle domestic abuse’.
The draft unveils plans which include formally introducing a government definition of domestic abuse incorporating economic, manipulative and non-physical abuse and supporting more victims giving evidence of abuse in criminal courts through new, special measures. However, the bill has since been dropped, because of, according to the Cabinet Office, ‘potential for the legislation to cause problems for the DUP’.
One measure within this bill would have given Westminster jurisdiction over abortion laws in Northern Ireland – some are sceptical this may be the reason that the newly drafted bill is no longer being pursued. Labour MP Stella Creasy also proposed an additional amendment to the drafted bill to which she claims the scope was limited, preventing her reforms from being enacted. In lieu of these developments, it begs the question of whether the Government is acting in the national interest or in self-interest?
Northern Ireland’s abortion laws are strict, permitting abortion only in cases wherein there is serious danger to the mother’s life; it is not permitted following rape, incest, nor if the foetus will not survive outside of the womb. Following relaxation on abortion laws in the Republic of Ireland, it has come to light that many Northern Irish citizens are keen to see their abortion laws relaxed too, however the DUP do not support relaxing abortion legislation.
In the recent vote of confidence in the Government, Theresa May emerged victorious by a mere 19 votes – these votes were mainly comprised of the 10 DUP MPs whose party props up the current government through ensuring it has a majority. Hence, some question whether the newly drafted Domestic Abuse Bill was dropped out of fears of angering the DUP and threatening the Government’s majority at a time wherein fears of a general election loom around every corner.
Creasy argues just that, stating that the Government ‘cares more about the DUP than domestic violence’. This is echoed by fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips, who states that the Government’s actions ‘undermine the safety of victims from across the UK’. Creasy goes on to argue that this is proof of the Government’s ‘[desperation] to cling to power’. In response to these comments, the Home Office stated, ‘the Government has been clear that as abortion is devolved in Northern Ireland, any question of reform to law or policy is one for a devolved Executive and Assembly to debate and discuss’ and ‘there has been no change in the territorial application of the Bill’.
Taking this into consideration, in lieu of Brexit and amounting political tension, are we entering an era of self-interested politics and do the Government’s actions indicate a prioritisation of the DUP over the people’s interests to ensure it retains its majority? Or is the Government justified in dropping the bill since abortion is a devolved issue and are they acting in the national interest by respecting devolved powers?