Sunday, 11 December 2011

80th Anniversary of the Statute of Westminster, 1931

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Statute of Westminster, 1931, the Act of the United Kingdom Parliament that established legislative equality between the UK and all of the self-governing dominions within the British Empire. Although Canadians (1867), Australians (1788) and New Zealanders (1840) claim different years of foundation and choose to celebrate their national "Dominion/Canada Day", "Australia Day" and "Waitangi Day" birthdays on the anniversary of this foundation date (Canada - 1 July, enactment of the British North America Act, a.k.a. the Constitution Act, 1867; New Zealand - 6 February, signing of the Treaty of Waitangi; and Australia - 26 January, the proclamation of British sovereignty upon the landing of the British First Fleet in Sydney Cove) the more accurate "Independence Day" for these nations is today, 11th December (although it should be noted that, whilst the Statute automatically applied to Canada, South Africa and the Irish Free State, it had to be ratified separately by the parliaments of Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland).

As has been discussed previously on this blog, the Statute was also a landmark document in terms of the Succession to the throne, enshrining the principle of the unity of the Crown and outlining, through its (albeit unenforceable) preamble, the importance of cooperation and unanimity between the realms in order to successfully enact any changes to the succession. This principle was tested less than 5 years later, during the Abdication Crisis of King Edward VIII. Although the Statute's continuing relevance is greatly reduced (and in many cases non-existent), by granting full independence to the self-governing dominions it is arguably the most important piece of legislation of the twentieth century.

Alas, despite such fundamental importance, the anniversary of its enactment has always been a non-event -- this is regrettable, as its annual celebration could have provided yet another visible and unifying link between the Commonwealth realms.

Nevertheless, since 1965 Canada, that Most Loyal Realm (MLR), has flown the Royal Union Flag (which remains an official flag of Canada to be flown on specific dates throughout the year -- where physical arrangements allow, i.e., there is a second flag pole) on 11th December in commemoration of the signing of the Statute of Westminster.  The Union Flag has been an official flag of Canada since 1904, indeed, it was the Union Flag and not the Red Ensign that was the official flag until the introduction of the Maple Leaf in 1965. The Royal Union Flag's current official status is as a symbol of membership in the Commonwealth and allegiance to the Crown, as decreed by the Canadian parliament on 18 December 1964.

Previous Canadian governments have treated this protocol requirement as something of an embarrassment and the date has often passed unmarked. I know many a staunch monarchist who has glumly reported various government buildings with unadorned second flag poles.

To its credit, and in keeping with its clear policy of celebrating Canadian heritage (including the Monarchy, etc.) the current Harper government has formally decreed that to mark the 80th anniversary of the signing of the Statute of Westminster, the Royal Union Flag WILL be flown from all public and government buildings today.

To quote:

Anniversary of the Statute of Westminster (1931)
In accordance with the rules for flying the Canadian flag and other flags in Canada, where physical arrangements* make it possible, the Royal Union Flag (known as the Union Jack) will be flown from sunrise to sunset on Government of Canada buildings and establishments across the country on Sunday, December 11, 2011, to mark the anniversary of the Statute of Westminster.
*"Physical arrangements" means the existence of at least two flag poles. The Canadian flag takes precedence and is not to be replaced by the Union Jack. Source:

Congratulations to the Government of Canada for recognising the significance of this anniversary and for ensuring that it is appropriately commemorated across the country. I encourage all interested Canadians to look at their public and government buildings today and see if they can spot the Royal Union Flag.

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