"The Conservative Party’s Northern Ireland spokesman has said the Westminster parliament might need to consider offering elected republican MPs – whether Irish or otherwise – an alternative to the traditional oath swearing allegiance to the British monarch.
However, David Lidington last night stressed his clear understanding that such a development would have no bearing on the position of Sinn Féin MPs.
And he made clear that any change would have to take place in the context of the United Kingdom as a whole, and could only come about – if at all – following extensive cross-party consultations at Westminster.
Mr Lidington clarified his position following an interview on BBC Radio Foyle in which he was asked what his attitude would be if Sinn Féin dropped its abstentionist policy, so leaving the oath the only obstacle to the party’s MPs taking their seats in the House of Commons.
Having frequently questioned Sinn Féin members about precisely this issue, Mr Lidington said he understood that scrapping or amending the oath would make no difference because Sinn Féin objected to the exercise of British jurisdiction in Northern Ireland and were therefore abstentionists in principle.
When pressed for his view on the oath in the event of Sinn Féin dropping the policy of abstentionism, as it had done for both the Dáil and Stormont, Mr Lidington said that the issue should then be re-examined and suggested an additional alternative form of words might be found for republicans wishing to take their seats but unable to swear the oath.
The issue of the oath, and possible variations offered to MPs, may now be referred to the Democracy Task Force, established by Conservative leader David Cameron earlier this week."
Votes loom on the EU Withdrawal Bill in the Lords. Which places a big responsibility on Labour’s leader there – Angela Smith.
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