This one crazy law from 1829 could topple our newly married Prime Minister

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By CJ McKinney on

Boris Johnson, meet the Catholic Relief Act

Original image via Wikimedia Commons/Snowmanradio

On 5 February 1829, the Duke of Wellington changed his mind.

The hero of Waterloo, by then Prime Minister, told the House of Lords that he now supported Catholic Emancipation: the repeal of laws forbidding Roman Catholics from becoming MPs or holding top political jobs. The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 swiftly passed into law, helped by the Duke’s vigorous lobbying.

The Act threw some bones to conservative opponents. No Catholic priest could become an MP, until that section was repealed in 2001. And no “person professing the Roman Catholic religion” was allowed to advise the monarch on the appointment of Church of England bishops, on pain of being “disabled for ever from holding any office, civil or military, under the Crown”. That section is still in force.

Which brings us to the Catholic marriage of Boris Johnson over the weekend.

Now that the Prime Minister is clearly “professing the Roman Catholic religion”, Joshua Rozenberg points out that he had better stop nominating bishops or risk falling foul of the 1829 Act.

Although the selection of bishops in practice is up to the Church of England itself, the process on paper involves the Prime Minister. As the church itself puts it, “Following the approval of Her Majesty the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, the announcement of the new Bishop is made by No 10 Downing St”.

It’s been suggested that all the newly Catholic PM needs to do is get someone else to send the name to Her Maj in future

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But I say it’s too late for that. Boris Johnson has arguably been a Catholic all along.

As the Irish Times reported yesterday, “according to the Catholic Church’s canon law, and despite Mr Johnson’s reception of Church of England confirmation at school, he remained a Catholic as it is not possible to formally defect from the Church”.

You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

The paper goes on to state as fact that “on assuming office in July 2019, Mr Johnson became Britain’s first Catholic prime minister”.

The final piece of the puzzle: has Johnson advised the Crown to appoint any Church of England bishops since then? Yes: 10 Downing Street announced the appointment of a new Bishop of Chelmsford late last year.

So there you have it: the Catholic Relief Act 1829 positively demands that the papist PM be pulled down. All that’s missing is the legal crowdfunder.

Sure, it’s not exactly democratic to harrass elected politicans with arcane legal technicalities. But it’s certainly popular: Johnson has previously been the target of a crowdfunded private prosecution for misconduct of public office and a prank County Court judgment in default (swiftly struck out ).

And that’s how the Duke of Wellington’s Catholic Relief Act could see this Prime Minister meet his Waterloo.

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