In Brief

Theresa May's Queen's Speech passes - but only just

Abortion U-turn halts backbench revolt as government's legislative agenda is voted through by 323 to 309

Theresa May avoided a backbench rebellion and marshalled her Queen's Speech through the Commons last night after the government announced women in Northern Ireland would be able to access free NHS abortions in England ahead of the issue being tabled as a Labour amendment.

Chancellor Philip Hammond confirmed women in the province who travel to other parts of the UK for NHS terminations will no longer have to pay for them. Abortion is illegal in Northern Ireland in almost all cases.

As many as 40 Tory MPs had been prepared to back Labour MP Stella Creasy's amendment. After the concession, the Queen's Speech, which outlines the government's legislative agenda, was voted through by 323 to 309, a majority of just 14. 

Conservative MPs had said the vote was a "make or break" moment for the Prime Minister. 

"In a move that was seized on as a sign of the government's weak grip on power, the Prime Minister caved in to pressure to pay for abortions in England for Northern Irish women," says The Times

The Belfast Telegraph calls the vote "a cynical act by frantic Tories", but says the announcement on free abortions is not before its time.

"There is a certain poetic justice in the Tory government's sudden decision to permit Northern Irish women to access free abortions on the NHS in England. That's because it is a direct result of Theresa May's pact with the notoriously anti-abortion DUP," it says.

"Wheeling and dealing, ducking and diving - it's what the DUP does best. But sometimes even these canny players get out-manoeuvred. And yesterday - hallelujah! - was one of those days."

Despite May's "supply and confidence" deal with the DUP, which gives her a slim majority, the government climbdown demonstrates "she remains vulnerable to a rebellion from her own Conservatives MPs", says the BBC.

Ben Riley-Smith, political correspondent at the Daily Telegraph, tweeted: "Fun game for this parliament. Find an issue seven Tories believe in, check if the opposition feels the same, watch it become an amendment... and then law."

Labour was defeated on amendments to scrap tuition fees, end austerity measures and promise to ensure Brexit delivers the "exact same benefits" as EU single market and customs union membership.

Jeremy Corbyn faced a rebellion of his own, however, when 51 MPs defied the party whip and voted for an amendment introduced by former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, which called for continued membership of the single market and customs union.

This was in direct "contravention of Labour's official policy, which is to leave both, to end the free movement of EU citizens to the UK", says the Telegraph. The vote "exposes Labour splits on the issue of Brexit".

Corbyn sacked the three frontbenchers who voted for the amendment, Catherine West, Ruth Cadbury and Andy Slaughter.

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