Howard on the Act of Settlement

Michael Howard has said the Tories would consider abolishing the Anti-Catholic elements in the Act of Settlement.

The Guardian has raised this issue in the past, but there seems to be a note of caution in Michael White’s report.

I think he may have got the wrong end of the stick here:

As the current controversies over abortion, euthanasia and other "right to life" issues have underlined, there remain many ethical dilemmas where the Catholic standpoint is distinctive – and potentially divisive, especially in Scotland, Lancashire and Northern Ireland.

The idea that sectarian tensions are a result of these kind of issues is a sub-Julie Burchill fantasy. In fact, as last week’s ESRI report showed, Catholic and Protestant attitudes to these issues in Northern Ireland are much closer to each other than either is to attitudes in Britain, which is why the 1967 Abortion Act was never extended there.

There is some very valuable stuff in White’s article, however:

[Howard] conceded that there were at least two major obstacles that would prevent an easy change to the 1701 Act of Settlement.

One is the consent of the Commonwealth, which is far less compliant than it was in the past. Related to that changing attitude, in Britain and beyond, is the scope it would give to republicans in countries like Australia to drop the monarchy or to codify the so-called "royal prerogative" powers which prime ministers have inherited – and find handy. Declaring war is one of them.

That surely gives the lie to those who claim that abolishing the monarchy wouldn’t improve British democracy.

As well as solving the Act of Settlement problem at a stroke, it would pave the way for the natural conclusion of the English democratic tradition, a common law republic.






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