Tory MP backlash sees divorce law reforms compared to witch trials

Ministers were accused of seeking to undermine the nuclear family via their bid to introduce ‘no-fault’ divorce.


Divorce law reforms have been compared to how witches were dealt with centuries ago, as Conservative MPs warned the Government has lost its “moral compass”.

Ministers faced a fierce backlash over their attempt to introduce “no-fault” divorce in a bid to make separation less traumatic for couples.

Tory former minister Sir Christopher Chope warned the legislation, which cleared the Commons on Wednesday, would enable irretrievable breakdown of a marriage to be proved by “mere assertion” without the need for any evidence.

New Year Honours List 2018
Conservative MP Sir Christopher Chope (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

He told the Commons: “If any more evidence was needed that our Government has lost its moral compass, I think this Bill provides that evidence.

“I never thought I’d be asked by a Conservative government to support a change in the law which gives unilateral access to the courts without any requirement to establish facts.”

He added: “Reliance on mere assertion was how we used to deal with witches and it’s still a favourite tool of dictators, such as Putin and Erdogan who govern by decree.

“I didn’t think we were going to venture down that route in this Parliament under a Conservative government.”

Sir Christopher, speaking as MPs considered amendments to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, also said many divorcees left on their own during the Covid-19 lockdown “desperately wish” they had persisted with their marriage.

MP portraits
Conservative MP Fiona Bruce spoke out strongly against the proposals (Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament)

He said: “Many marriage breakdowns are temporary and not irretrievable – that’s why this issue of evidence for irretrievable breakdown is so important.

“Sometimes the parties interpret the breakdown as irretrievable, they get divorced and they live to regret it later.

“And who can doubt that there are many divorcees on their own during the Covid-19 lockdown who desperately wish that they had persisted with their marriage?”

Sir Christopher said a fellow MP had referred to 50% having regrets, adding: “I suspect following this lockdown that percentage might increase even further.”

He went on: “The Government almost seems to be venturing down the same route as those who support cultural Marxism. Is this Government inadvertently a collaborator with cultural Marxism in seeking to undermine nuclear families?”

Conservative Fiona Bruce (Congleton) also spoke out strongly against the proposals, which she described as “state-approved unilateral divorce”.

She said: “It is a sad day for this House and my saddest in 10 years here.”

Andrea Leadsom
Conservative former cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom called for more to be done to help couples reconcile their relationships (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Ms Bruce added: “The removal of fault sends out the signal that marriage can be unilaterally exited with no available recourse for the party who has been left. The public get it even if ministers don’t.”

She also said commitment within marriage would become unreliable, adding: “No longer till death us do part, but until I give you six months’ notice to quit with no reason given.”

Conservative former cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, who said her parents got divorced when she was a child, called for more to be done to help couples reconcile their relationships.

She said: “What we never do as a chamber is say ‘we stand up for people being together and sticking together and loving each other and we want to help them in every way that we can’.”

Tory MP Scott Benton (Blackpool South) said it is in the “national interest” to help couples stay together.

Currently in England and Wales, unless someone can prove there was adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion, the only way to obtain a divorce without their spouse’s agreement is to live apart for five years.

The reforms keep “irretrievable breakdown” of a marriage as the sole grounds for divorce.

But rather than having to provide evidence relating to behaviour or separation, divorcing spouses will only be required to make a statement that the marriage has broken down.

It will also be possible for couples to make joint divorce applications, alongside the current option for one party to initiate the process.

Conservative former minister Sir John Hayes said: “This Bill undermines marriage, weakens families, risks weakening social solidarity, is being rushed through the House by ministers who refuse to listen to measured and moderate argument.”

But justice minister Alex Chalk argued: “I support marriage, the Government supports marriage. This Bill is not anti-marriage, and I respectfully suggest that those who characterise it in that way are not being entirely fair. This Bill is essentially anti-bitterness.”

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