4

In the UK there exists a republican movement (i.e., those advocating for the replacement of the monarchy), chiefly focussed around a group called Republic.

Technically, advocating the establishment of a republic—even through peaceful means—is still illegal in the UK (though currently not enforced due to incompatibilities with the Human Rights Act 1998). However, the HRA appears to be firmly in the sights of the current government, so that might not be the case forever (though I imagine ‘bring back treason’ might be a hard sell, politically).

However, MPs who refuse to make an oath/affirmation of allegiance are treated ‘as if they were dead’ if they try to vote or join a debate, so it is clear that republicanism can still cause headaches in modern Britain.*

On the other hand, the Equality Act 2010 defines ‘philosophical belief’ as a protected characteristic that cannot be discriminated against, though with some exemptions. Republicanism appears to fulfil the criteria for such a belief.

Given this somewhat ambiguous legal environment, my question is: is it legal to discriminate against someone in the UK for peaceful republican advocacy, such as paid membership in a group like Republic?

And then some sub-questions:

  1. Given that an oath/affirmation of allegiance is required for membership of the Armed Forces, Parliament, etc., can these organisations deny or revoke membership for republican advocacy (provided they still make the oath/affirmation and don't breach other rules, such as claiming to represent the Armed Forces at political events)?

  2. If the answer to #1 is ‘yes’, is this different for the reserve forces?

  3. Can such advocacy be grounds for refusing meetings with royals?§

Notes

* Famously, Irish Republican party Sinn Féin refuse to take up their seats in Westminster for this reason. Other republican MPs have tried other tactics.

† The Armed Forces are explicitly exempt from four of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act, though not belief. As an answer to a previous question of mine explained, however, conscientious objection is nonetheless grounds for refusal or dismissal, so that appears to be a de facto exemption.

‡ Section 7 of the Reserve Land Forces regulations 2016 (for example) explicitly states that ‘Officers and soldiers of the Army Reserve...have the normal rights and responsibilities of citizens of the United Kingdom’, as opposed to Regular Army personnel.

§ Part of the reason I'm asking this question is also how I first heard of Republic - someone told me they had purchased membership for a monarchist friend as a joke, and that as a result they would never be allowed to meet a royal. However, I've not been able to find any evidence that this would be the case.

7
  • Officers of the Royal Navy do not swear an oath because tradition
    – Dale M
    Jan 1 at 6:11
  • 1
    Speaking as an American and republican in the sense of the word you use, my understanding is that so long as the specific words of the oath are said, than it is valid... but there's rules to add additional language to the oath as the MP likes, which has allowed for some cheeky Republican MPs to get away with making an oath that doesn't contradict their core principles.
    – hszmv
    Apr 20 at 12:59
  • ‘as if they were dead': that's a little hyperbolic. If an MP dies, their seat is vacated and a by-election takes place. If an MP refuses to take the oath or affirmation, they can't sit in the Commons, and they don't get paid - but they remain as an MP, and they can in theory still represent their constituents by, say, writing to ministers. May 7 at 9:57
  • 1
    The whole sentence is important: "Any Member of the House of Commons who votes as such, or sits during any debate after the Speaker has been chosen, without having taken the oath, is subject to the same penalty [£500], and their seat is also vacated in the same manner as if they were dead." If they don't turn up at all, then they get to keep their seats. May 7 at 16:10
  • 1
    @SteveMelnikoff True; I've clarified it in the question.
    – 08915bfe02
    May 7 at 16:23
5

Regarding the question of whether republicanism or opposition to monarchy is a protected belief under the Equality Act 2010, there is still uncertainty about the scope of the law, but it is quite likely it would be protected. A tribunal in 2019 found that belief in Scottish independence was a protected belief, assuming it's a deeply held belief about political sovereignty, which makes it somewhat similar to republicanism.

The law doesn't cover political affiliation/party membership and it doesn't necessarily cover all political beliefs, but the judge in that case found that the law protected a belief about "weighty and substantial aspects of human life" and agreed that "how a country should be governed is sufficiently serious to amount to a protected philosophical belief". So a serious belief in republicanism certainly could be protected; the issue would be whether it was sufficiently serious and important and deeply held, not just an opinion which is subject to change. There has been speculation on whether support or opposition to Brexit would likewise be protected, but this doesn't seem to have been tested in court yet.

For the armed forces it's likewise a little unclear. Exemptions to the Equality Act apply to situations where they affect the operational capacity or combat readiness of the armed forces. It's hard to see this as directly relevant. However as the answer you cite about conscientious objectors says, their treatment is a result of customs and practices in the army, not primary legislation. Further research may identify how the army has treated individual republicans in particular circumstances.

It's not grounds for being refused permission to meet the Queen or other royalty. Here's a photo of Australian republican politician Malcolm Turnbull (who campaigned for the Queen to cease being Australia's head of state) shaking hands with the Queen. She has also met Martin McGuinness who has long campaigned for Northern Ireland to escape the Queen's reign. British writer and gay rights activist Simon Fanshawe didn't let republicanism stop him accepting an OBE. Jeremy Corbyn, former leader of the Opposition met royalty on several occasions, despite earlier republican activism (while later he stated he had no plans to abolish the monarchy but did not deny his republicanism). There are many more examples, e.g. Russell Brand (who Wikipedia says is a republican).

Although advocating a republic is theoretically treasonous, peaceful advocacy is allowed by the Human Rights Act: see R. (Rusbridger) v. Attorney General [2003] UKHL 38; [2004] AC 357; [2003] 3 All ER 784. (Source: Wikipedia page on Republic (political organisation))

1
  • 1
    Just to add regarding party affiliations in the UK, there are certain political parties that can prevent you from joining certain professions. If you join the far-right British Nationalist Party (BNP) you cannot join the police force or be a teacher.
    – JamesPD
    Apr 21 at 16:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.