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Labour feared backlash over anti-Catholic reform

Donald Dewar, the former first minister, refused to endorse the repeal of the Act of Settlement for fear of alienating Ulster Unionists.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Dewar sympathised with calls to abolish the legislation but was not prepared to support it publicly.

In an official memo in 1999 he said that amending the act would “needlessly offend public opinion” and “send entirely the wrong message” to unionists in Northern Ireland.

Under the act of 1701 no Catholic can inherit the crown and any member of the royal family who marries a Catholic is barred from succession unless his or her spouse agrees to renounce the faith.

Elsewhere in the papers is a disclosure that the Church of Scotland said there was “no urgency” for abolition, despite publicly backing repeal.

• Full story at the Sunday Times.

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