Labour to abolish Privy Council
Not content with the dog’s breakfast it has made of the House of Lords, or the embarrassment caused by attempts to abolish the Lord Chancellor, the Government is intent on tinkering with an institution which fulfils a crucial role in the UK’s constitutional settlement. The Privy Council is indeed a council of government, which in many respects was supplanted at the Glorious Revolution by the Cabinet, but its members also give counsel, and in that regard Privy Councillors are actually Her Majesty’s Privy Counsellors. Each member, whether from the Government, the Opposition, the Lords Temporal, or the Lords Spiritual, has the right of access to the Sovereign in order to tender advice on public affairs. Peers enjoy right of access individually; members of the House of Commons possess the right collectively.
The following oath is administered to Privy Counsellors before they take office:
You do swear by Almighty God to be a true and faithful Servant unto The Queen's Majesty as one of Her Majesty's Privy Council. You will not know or understand of any manner of thing to be attempted, done or spoken against Her Majesty's Person, Honour, Crown or Dignity Royal, but you will lett and withstand the same to the uttermost of your power, and either cause it to be revealed to Her Majesty Herself, or to such of Her Privy Council as shall advertise Her Majesty of the same. You will in all things to be moved, treated and debated in Council, faithfully and truly declare your Mind and Opinion, according to your Heart and Conscience; and will keep secret all matters committed and revealed unto you, or that shall be treated of secretly in Council. And if any of the said Treaties or Counsels shall touch any of the Counsellors you will not reveal it unto him but will keep the same until such time as, by the consent of Her Majesty or of the Council, Publication shall be made thereof. You will to your uttermost bear Faith and Allegiance to the Queen's Majesty; and will assist and defend all Jurisdictions, Pre-eminences, and Authorities, granted to Her Majesty and annexed to the Crown by Acts of Parliament, or otherwise, against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States, or Potentates. And generally in all things you will do as a faithful and true Servant ought to do to Her Majesty. So help you God.
To the modern mind, this oath might appear a little over-egged. It is, however, the oath by which acts of treason may be exposed, prevented, or restrained. And while ‘treason’ is also one of those terms which appears to belong to a bygone era, it is the taking of this oath which has been adduced as being incompatible with the support of successive governments for UK membership of the European Union. Essentially, when the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 was ratified by the House of Commons a year later, Her Majesty became a ‘citizen’ of the EU, subject to its laws, and the judgements of its courts.
One cannot simultaneously be both sovereign and subject. The Government is therefore resolving the conflict by eradicating the oath by which government ministers are required to uphold Her Majesty’s sovereignty. Well, something had to give…