Cameron unsettles the Settlement
Cranmer notes a number of problems with this. The first is that the United Kingdom already has a Bill of Rights. It was the legislative expression of the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, and was part of the deal under which William and Mary became joint rulers, giving Parliament, rather than the monarch, power over taxation, criminal law and the military. It also banned Roman Catholics from succeeding to the throne on the grounds that ‘it is inconsistent with the safety and welfare of this protestant kingdom to be governed by a popish prince’. Mr Cameron is attempting to execute his own Glorious Revolution by toppling King Tony, though it is not clear what will prevent Mr Cameron from becoming an absolute ruler once he ascends the throne.
The second problem is that he didn’t consult his own ‘Democracy Task Force’, which was set up specifically to examine such constitutional reforms. Kenneth Clarke, the task force chairman, knew nothing of the proposal until he heard about it on the BBC. He was not impressed, dismissing the idea as ‘xenophobic and legal nonsense’. Such Europhile beasts need to be stroked and fed on a regular basis… they have a habit of assassinating Conservative leaders.
Mr Cameron’s third problem is that his understanding of the British Constitution is as shallow as his understanding of political history. He wants the new Bill of Rights to be somehow ‘entrenched’, to have a greater degree of ‘permanence’. But, if followed to its logical conclusion, this would give ultimate power to unelected judges, rather than to elected politicians. Is the Conservative Party really proposing to abolish the supremacy of Parliament? And what would become of the existing Bill of Rights? Is the Conservative Party really proposing to unsettle the Settlement of the relationship between the Monarch and Parliament, and the establishment of the Church of England?
No piece of British legislation is sacrosanct in the same way as it is in the United States. The single fundamental of the British constitutional system is that parliament may not bind its successor. A new Bill of Rights would, once passed into law, have no more chance of surviving a subsequent parliament or of guaranteeing rights than any other Bill passed by both Houses and rubber-stamped by Her Majesty. Cranmer has received an email from the eminent barrister Michael Shrimpton QC confirming this, though he adds: ‘the Royal assent is not a rubber stamp, and can be refused in a proper case, the European Communities Act of 1972 being one such example, where a refusal of Royal Assent would have been justified’.
Cranmer agrees. Mr Cameron is making headlines, but his grasp of constitutional basics rather belies his Oxford First. Good job Cranmer was a Cambridge man.