No. 384 UCDA P67/115

Notes by the Department of External Affairs on the constitutional crisis
in Great Britain

Dublin, undated, December 1936

Notes on the Constitutional Crisis in Great Britain

The following appear to be the salient points to be borne in mind in connection with our attitude towards the Constitutional crisis which has arisen in Great Britain:-

1. The first point that occurs is that in order to carry out its policy the British Cabinet must secure the assent of the Dominions, and possibly even their subsequent co-operation in legislative action. How can the British Cabinet ask the assent, co-operation or acquiescence of a Dominion which by depriving it of the rights and benefits accruing to other Dominions from the Ottawa Conference it has virtually excluded from the Commonwealth.

2. However the crisis may be resolved, it will occasion a serious cleavage in Great Britain which will persist for a very long time. Just as the British have used political divisions here for their political advantage we are entitled and are bound to turn their present difficulty to our own account.

3. If the proposed marriage takes place, whether by special legislation or otherwise, it will undoubtedly - (a) weaken the British Monarchy as an institution and (b) weaken the Constitutional position in Great Britain of the British Cabinet. It will strengthen the Constitutional position of those Dominion Cabinets which are slow or reluctant to follow the British Cabinet's lead in the present crisis. For all these reasons we should be slow to impede the proposed marriage, and in my1 view should give the impression that a morganatic arrangement should suffice to meet the British Cabinet's point of view. This course is not unattended with risk, particularly if the British Cabinet should succeed in forcing an abdication. On the other hand, if the King stands fast and should secure the support of the British people, a too ready support of the British Cabinet's policy will bring its ill-consequences also.

4. The King's power to maintain his position depends upon (1) whether he can procure a sufficiently influential politician to attempt to form a Government. (2) Whether that politician can in fact form a Government. And (3) whether at a General Election that Government would be supported by the electorate.

5. As to the politician. There is Winston Churchill, the deadly enemy of Baldwin, venal and unscrupulous, whose house was founded by a man who betrayed his first patron, James, Duke of York, and who allowed his wife to pander to an erotic Queen. He is a figure of great potentialities and of over-weening ambition. He has already given indications of a desire to challenge the Cabinet's attitude on the proposed marriage. His whole political life has been as a gamble and, as an inducement to risk whatever future remains to him by taking the King's side, there is the fact that if the King were to win, his now Prime Minister would exercise a personal domination that has not been known in Great Britain since the days of Walpole.2

6. As to the politician's ability to form a Cabinet, the present British Cabinet is at the disadvantage of being supported by a political majority which numbers many able and ambitious men for whom Cabinet rank is unattainable unless a political convulsion shakes all the British Parties. The same is true of the Labour Party. People of this kind would be only too ready to follow Churchill if they thought he had a chance of winning.

7. As to the chances of the British electorate supporting such a Government, we have to remember (1) the personal popularity of the King, particularly with the workers and ex-Servicemen. (2) That the electorate in Great Britain is now based on adult suffrage and is likely to be dominated by the younger element who would be easily swayed by the spacious3 catch cries which could be used on this issue. (3) A very large portion of the British people have very lax views in regard to marriage and divorce.

8. One important factor which should be borne in mind in connection with this issue is the different and conflicting views which the Established Church and the Free Churches take in regard to divorce and the re-marriage of divorced persons. The differences on political and doctrinal grounds between the Established Church and the Free Churches have always been bitter and acute in Great Britain. Latterly, with the growing laxity in religious matters of the English people in general, these differences have been disappearing. It is possible that the manner in which the attack was opened on the King may revive them. It will be remembered that there was a suggestion that the non-conformist Churches might participate in the Coronation of the King. The greater part of the Bishop of Bradford's sermon was devoted to denying the right of these Churches to so participate. If the King's friends take the attitude that if the Established Church won't officiate at the Coronation and won't marry him to a divorced person then the other great English Protestant Churches ought to be allowed to have their say in the matter, it is possible that on this ground, apart from other considerations, he may get a very large part of non-Conformist England on his side. It will be noted that so far no non-Conformist Divine has joined in this controversy.

9. One remarkable feature of the Cabinet's press campaign against the King is the deliberate attempt to create the impression that the Cabinet has been forced to raise the issue by pressure from the Dominions. So marked has been this feature of the campaign that Mr. McKenzie King last night gave a flat denial of the suggestion that so far as he knew other Dominions had taken the initiative in the matter, that they had been consulted and apparently had mildly consented to follow the British lead. This statement will be seized on by the King's Party in Great Britain and will almost certainly considerably weaken the British Cabinet's position there.

10. It is clear from the penny press in Great Britain that the people are dead against abdication and that there is considerable sympathy for the King's point of view in the matter. This sympathy is bound to grow. This morning the papers are demanding that the full facts in regard to the attitude of the Dominions towards the proposed morganatic marriage should be submitted to the people - for example, the 'News Chronicle' has a leader headed 'We must have the facts' and asks 'Is the morganatic marriage impossible?' The 'Daily Express' states 'It is for the Cabinet, who found the way into the dilemma, to find a way out'. The 'Daily Mail', referring to Baldwin's statement that the Dominions would not assent to the suggested legislation, says, 'Obviously it depends on the manner in which the suggestion was put to them. It is important therefore that the communications sent to them should be published forthwith and textually'. The 'Daily Herald' says 'The people of this country, the source of the Cabinet's authority, are entitled to know the facts'. If these demands are pressed and publication takes place it is probable that the Cabinet's position will be further weakened.

1 The style of this memorandum indicates the author to be Joseph P. Walshe.

2 Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745), British statesman, recognised as a leader of the Whig party (1703), British Prime Minister (1721-42).

3 May have meant 'specious'.

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