The Act of Settlement and the unravelling of the UK Constitution?

The News Letter has a fascinating quote from Wallace Thompson:

“We are in danger of moving towards that full-blown repeal of the Act of Settlement and the overthrowing of the Protestant basis of the monarchy. I think it would be a very serious development for the United Kingdom. My loyalty to the throne is based on the monarchy being Protestant, so from a personal point of view if that were to happen then my loyalty to the monarchy would end.”

So risible and 16th century you might say, but His Grace has this important connotation to add:

The Act of Settlement is formally entitled ‘An Act for the further Limitation of the Crown and better securing the Rights and Liberties of the Subject’. It is because the Crown has historically been limited that our rights and liberties have been preserved. The Act was forged during an era of intolerable foreign interference in the governance of England. Like Magna Carta, it is a foundational treaty between the Monarch and his/her subjects which defines our liberties and asserts our sovereign independence from all foreign princes and potentates. And its provisions are ‘for ever’: our forebears made sure it was watertight.

But David Cameron chips away at this Act as though it were no different from any other. And by so doing, he weakens the contract between the Monarchy and the people, because once the Monarch is Roman Catholic or married to one, ‘in all and every such case and cases the people of these realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their allegiance’. Parliament cannot demand a fealty which the Constitution nullifies. The Prime Minister appears to be oblivious to the fact that the Oath of Allegiance is contingent upon the provisions in the Act of Settlement, and so he picks away at a delicate thread by which the whole gilded fabric of the carefully-woven tapestry will unravel, including the establishment of the Church of England.

To quote the words of Hugh Gaitskell at the 1962 Labour Party Conference, as he warned of the inevitability of surrendered sovereignty should the UK become a member of the EEC: “You may say ‘let it end’ but, my goodness, it is a decision that needs a little care and thought.”

Sadly, the Prime Minister doesn’t have much time for ‘care and thought’. He is a thoroughly postmodern politician, not given to the discipline of contemplation demanded by history, theology or philosophy. His priority concern is economic politics, or political economics. Everything else is peripheral and expendable.

  • He’s got Cameron right.

  • Decimus

    The effects of this would not be felt until after the death of William, and that could be a vey long time in the future indeed. A time perhaps when neither the Anglican or Roman Catholic churches might not even still exist.

  • michael-mcivor

    We voted for Equality in the Good Friday Agreement- so the sectarian Act of settlement has to get the boot- time for the brit goverment to know the law-

  • Jimmy Sands

    Unless I’m misreading he is under the impression that the provisions of Magna Carta (almost entirely repealed) are forever. It’s the sort of guff that spides copy off the internet in the belief that it means they don’t have to get car insurance.

  • Nothing is “forever”, not even a diamond.
    Any change would quite properly have to be decided by the true rulers, Parliament. It’s not impossible they could remove the monarch as head of the CE.

  • Mr. Thompson is the unacceptable face of Britishness. His “loyalty” is not worth trying to preserve.

  • … or, of course, we could opt for a federal republic.

    Why do we wet ourselves over the fiction of a monarchy? What is the legitimacy of that institution, beyond a few legal fictions?

    Why are we so immature that, of all the world’s nations outside of the dark ages of the Mid East, we have to wrap ourselves into religiosities? If the likes of Church of England (who haven’t had a good few days recently) can’t cope without a “Supreme Governor”, tough. The rest of us can.

    OK, OK, the immature and the window-lickers need a figurehead to open your Grand Projects and grace the front of celeb mags … fair enough. Sigh … Just hold a raffle every so often so we can kill off the Civil List, huh?

    Once we’ve overcome that bit of self-blinkering, we can look at ways of better running the show.

    We takes me back to first principles — the home rule controversy.

    Churchill’s first poke at the home rule issue was to note that it was absolutely impossible that an English Parliament, and still more an English Executive, could exist side by side with an Imperial Parliament and an Imperial Executive, whether based on separate or identical election. Imperial affairs could not in practice be separated from English party politics. [Cabinet papers, 24 Feb 1911].

    The corollary of that is we are dealing, still, with the Saxon Empire mentality.

    On 1 March 1911 Churchill presented a further paper (significantly entitled Devolution) to Cabinet, to address the issue of disproportionate sizes: the whole UK (then, of course including Ireland) would be divided into ten areas, with a devolved legislature for each, including Ireland, Scotland and Wales having their own parliaments so far as may be desirable in each case.

    Effectively, then, a Balkanisation, with only the most essential functions reserved to a central rump administration. Devo none-too-lite, any one?

    Oddly enough, when the post-war German federal structure was evolving (with more than a few nudges and shoves for UK jurists), that’s pretty well what came out of the mix. And it seems to have stood the test of the last sixty years. Which is more than can be said of the UK&NI set-up.

  • Pete Baker

    “We are in danger of moving towards that full-blown repeal of the Act of Settlement and the overthrowing of the Protestant basis of the monarchy.”

    “So risible and 16th century”, indeed. Although arguably 17th and 18th Century. 19th too.

    As for his grace’s

    It is because the Crown has historically been limited that our rights and liberties have been preserved. The Act was forged during an era of intolerable foreign interference in the governance of England. Like Magna Carta, it is a foundational treaty between the Monarch and his/her subjects which defines our liberties and asserts our sovereign independence from all foreign princes and potentates. And its provisions are ‘for ever’: our forebears made sure it was watertight. [added emphasis]

    But David Cameron chips away at this Act as though it were no different from any other. And by so doing, he weakens the contract between the Monarchy and the people, because once the Monarch is Roman Catholic or married to one, ‘in all and every such case and cases the people of these realms shall be and are thereby absolved of their allegiance’.

    Whilst that might be an appropriate sentiment from the real Archbishop Cranmer, it’s disingenuous coming from a 21st Century impersonator.

    The choice of partner, even by a head of state, is not one which should be regulated by law. Particularly not on the basis that an historical influence by a foreign religious, and political, leader still exists. It does not. A head of state does have certain rights too. If a democracy does not have the ability to deal with unacceptable consequences from that choice then it is not an appropriate ‘democracy’.

    If the head of state is also the head of the established church then, obviously, there will be restrictions on the head of state themselves.

    But that situation is not one which should be set in stone either.

  • Alias

    It’s surprising that a shrewd eurosceptic such as His Grace misses the most likely reason why Cameron is tinkering with the UK’s constitution: it conflicts with EU Law, and the UK government is obligated to transpose EU Directives in UK law, with vertical direct effect coming into play with unimplemented EU directives.

    The policy of UK government has always been to bring UK law into line with EU law prior to being forced to do, thereby sustaining the impression among the public that the UK still retains the sovereignty to decide its own law.

  • Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain? …

  • Turgon

    Seymour Major,
    “Mr. Thompson is the unacceptable face of Britishness. His “loyalty” is not worth trying to preserve.”

    To whom is his Britishness unacceptable? To you? If so why? Mr. Thompson has expressed a view on the consitution: one you are not in agreement with. However, Mr. Thompson has threatened no violence to anyone. I can think of many people who proclaim their Britishness and whose views I find more objectionable (loyalist terrorists here and the BNP C18 etc. mainly in mainland GB).

    Seymour Major seems to have created his own version of Norman Tebbit’s cricket test. Since the objectionable bit seems to be about a Catholic monarch does Seymour think a republican in the UK is not an acceptable British person? After all rather than object to a Catholic monarch a British republican objects to any monarch.

  • Taoiseach

    The UK has a derogation from EU and Council of Europe laws in connection with the monarchy.

    Laughable to suggest that protestantism is the basis of the monarchy – does he reject the monarchy prior to Henry VIII?

    Also, worth remembering that the Church of England is only established in England, not in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. No earthly reason why you couldn’t have a Catholic Queen in Northern Ireland.

  • galloglaigh

    What about this scenario:

    William becomes King and Kate changes to the Catholic faith. They have three children, and they are all brought up in the Catholic faith? William and Kate die in a car crash, and their eldest child can’t be crowned as they are not Church of England? Would the illegitimate love child of Will Carling become King? If he is no longer living – would his eldest child (who is Church of England) be crowned?

    The Act of Settlement is as outdated as Jim Allister’s anti-Catholic rhetoric…

  • Alias

    Directives are binding on all Member States to which they are addressed. The relevant Directives are addressed to all of the Member States. There are no exemptions made for the UK in the cited Directives. EU law takes precedence over UK law, so the UK merely has the discretion as to how it implements the Directive, and none whatsoever about the content of it. If they are not transposed into UK law then direct vertical effect comes into play. The purpose of transposing a Directive into domestic law is to conceal the imposition of foreign law by disguising as being of domestic origin.

  • Why are you all beating yourself, and each other, up?

    Unless one is a certified™ deist, the concept of a divinely-appointed monarch belongs in the (barely-)post medieval period. It’s the nearest thing still extant in the developed world to the notion of a caliphate.

    Take a deep breath. Move on. You are a sentient creature, capable of making decisions for yourself and communicating that to others. Your fellows around you and your good self are fully capable of directing society. You do not need a totem-pole to address.

    Get on with it.

  • Constitutions are important. But they cannot be fixed forever; times, mores, etc evolve. The US Constitution is an example of a “good” one yet has required 27 amendments to deal with inevitable defects and changing times.

  • Which would matter more, whether the monarchy was Christian or Protestant?

    sadly the two terms are not inextricably linked.

    comment has been made of the UK Constitution, I did not know there was one, can someone point me to it?

  • Procrasnow,

    There is no written one; a lot is based on Common Law, which is partly precedent and partly common sense as applied by magistrates, as far as I can figure out. There is some written stuff enacted such as the Act of Settlement.

  • antamadan

    This ‘for ever’ dictat of English Kings is a load of crap. It’s also the crap reason why the English flag still flies over Maguire’s castle in Enniskillen. V. poor justification.

  • Reader

    Procrasnow: comment has been made of the UK Constitution, I did not know there was one, can someone point me to it?
    Basically, joeCanuck is correct. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the entire House of Commons library is the UK constitution. Either way, it isn’t available in pamphlet form, which tends to upset Americans.

  • Reader @ 6:18 pm accurately describes the good news of the situation.

    All we have to do is quash the Act of Settlement (and doubtless several other bits of legislation) and re-enact the Bill passed on 19 May 1649:

    Be it declared and enacted by this present Parliament and by the Authoritie of the same —
    That the People of England and of all the Dominions and Territoryes thereunto belonging are and shall be and are hereby constituted, made, established, and confirmed to be a Commonwealth and free State
    And shall from henceforth be Governed as a Commonwealth and Free State by the supreame Authoritie of this Nation, the Representatives of the People in Parliament and by such as they shall appoint and constitute as Officers and Ministers under them for the good of the People and that without any King or House of Lords.

    This time round we could happily avoid the messy business of 30 Jan 1649: surely any number of sub-tropical paradises would happily shelter the dispossessed ex-royals. Goodness knows they must have enough stashed away to keep themselves in the style to qwhich we have been subscribing all these years.