Article Index

EU commissioners swear:

“To perform my duties in complete independence, in the general interests of the communities; in carrying out my duties, neither to seek nor to take instruction from any government or body; to refrain from any action incompatible with my duties.”

It is impossible to comprehend how privy counsellors who subsequently become European Union commissioners live with the contradictions inherent in these conflicting promises. By definition, one oath or the other must be broken, but the legal consequences of such breaches has - to the best of our knowledge - never been put to the test in a court of law or anywhere else. We detect an horrific prevailing mood in the highest offices in the land that mere words don’t matter any more.

In times past, words and their meaning had value and were fully respected. Sir Robert Howard, a member of the Convention Parliament, and of the drafting committee for the Bill of Rights, wrote:

“The people have always had the same title to their liberties and properties that England’s kings have had unto their crowns. The several charters of the people’s rights, most particularly the Magna Carta were not grants from the King, but recognition’s by the King of rights that have been reserved or that appertained unto us by common law and immemorial custom.”

In other words, any attempts to reduce the rights, freedoms and liberties enshrined in the constitution would be ultra vires.

(Few people have ever seen the whole of the original document known as The Declaration of Rights, which is housed in the library of the House of Lords. Until very recently part of it had been creased and folded up for what must have been many generations. Now, the entire document - including the engrossment - has been photographed and transcribed by members of our group, probably for the first time.)

The Declaration of 1688 confirmed and further clarified the governance of England. It established that the crown, both houses of parliament and the people are parts of a permanent single entity, and also made clear that abolition of the structure or responsibilities of parliament in part or in whole would be illegal:

“…the said Lords…and Commons, being the two Houses of Parliament, should continue to sit and…make effectual provision for the settlement of the …laws and liberties of this kingdom, so that the same for the future might not be in danger again of being subverted. …the particulars aforesaid shall be firmly and strictly holden and observed…and all officers and ministers whatsoever shall serve their Majesties and their successors according to the same, in all time to come.”

So, neither Magna Carta nor the Declaration of Rights can be repealed, nor did they make any grant of freedom. They both proclaimed what were taken to be self-evident freedoms which exist by right. Equally, both were based on a concept of permanence.

Indeed, in 1661, one of His Majesty’s Justices of the Peace told a grand jury:

“If Magna Carta be, as most of us are inclined to believe it is, …unalterable as to the main, it is so in every part.”

The oaths sworn by William and Mary subsequently locked those rights and that parliamentary structure into a constitutional framework which could not later be undone by parliament itself or by the monarchy.

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