The government will lift the ban on opening new grammar schools, the prime minister has announced, pre-empting the outcome of a consultation on the matter.

Theresa May told the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham this afternoon that the ban introduced by Tony Blair’s government in 1998 was a ‘scandal’, and pledged to lift it.

Her commitment to scrapping the ban comes despite the fact the government is currently consulting on whether new selective schools should be allowed to open in England.

Its green paper consultation document was launched last month and the public still has until November to respond, but May’s comments suggest that the idea of new grammar schools is already a foregone conclusion.

“Where there is demand from parents, where they will definitely take pupils from all backgrounds, where they will play a part in improving the quality of all schools in their area – we will lift the ban on establishing new grammar schools,” May told the conference.

She claimed that England had ended up in the “absurd situation” of preventing “good, popular, life-changing schools from opening – by law”.

May also said the ban on new grammars was an “illustration” of why “ordinary working class people think it’s one rule for them, and another for everyone else”.

“The message we are sending them is this: we will not allow their children to have the same opportunities that wealthier children enjoy.

“That is a scandal and we – the Conservative Party – must bring it to an end,” she said.

The prime minister’s comments make a tough floor-fight in Parliament almost inevitable, with the government’s thin majority in the House of Commons already looking shaky.

Schools Week understands that more than 30 Conservative MPs oppose the move to bring back selection, while others are said to have misgivings about other elements of the green paper, and opposition peers in the House of Lords have already pledged to block any legislation aimed at overturning the ban.