Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – and Prince George – heading for constitutional storm in Australia

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – and Prince George – heading for constitutional storm in Australia

A blip in legislation in the state of South Australia could cause a few red faces when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visit in April

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Duke and Duchess of Cambridge

Constitutional concerns ahead of the visit to Australia by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and baby Prince George Photo: PA
As the clock counts down to the first overseas state visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George, there are growing fears that their trip may be overshadowed – not by noisy republicans (an occupational hazard on bygone royal tours Down Under), but by a delicate constitutional wrinkle.

Parliament House in Canberra has yet to pass key laws that would permit the Cambridges’ future children to ascend to the throne, regardless of their gender. In Britain, the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 – which ended the tradition whereby sons take precedence over daughters – was rushed through Parliament by Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, while the Duchess was pregnant.

The 16 Commonwealth realms that share the British Royal family must also enact the legislative changes. This will tie up a constitutional loose end and ensure that the realms cannot end up with different heads of state – even in theory.

However, the realm still dragging its heels is the one in which the royal party arrives in days.

Constitutional rules in Australia require that each of its six states consent to the changes – and while five have passed or are passing the necessary legislation, South Australia is holding out because of its own state elections. It is now unlikely that all states will have got their act together in time for the Cambridges’ April visit.

A spokesman for the Australian High Commission said yesterday: “The Australian Government’s national legislation to implement reforms to rules for royal succession is ready to be introduced into the Australian Parliament, as soon as all six Australian states enact legislation under s51(38) of the Australian Constitution.”

Questions have been raised in the House of Lords about the delay. Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, a Labour peer, said: “We just hope that before the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge get to Australia, it may have done the necessary.

“Although their firstborn is a son, were they to have a brace [...], the order of succession may still be important.”

Yesterday, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg put the blame firmly on the Deputy Prime Minister.

He said: “It was a mistake hurriedly to pass complex constitutional legislation without proper preparation. Nick Clegg created uncertainty over the Succession to the Crown through a lack of homework or understanding.”