Home News London’s Garrick Club votes to accept female members for first time

London’s Garrick Club votes to accept female members for first time

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One of London’s oldest and most famous men’s clubs, GarrickTuesday voted to admit women as members, according to two members. The vote ends a decades-long controversy that has divided the club, prompted multiple conflicting legal arguments and made the lives of some of its most famous members extremely embarrassing.

The vote opened membership to women for the first time since the club was founded in 1831, according to two members. Some members said they planned to quickly nominate a group of outstanding women. Including actress Judi Dench and classics scholar Mary Beard.

The decision comes after the latest round of sometimes heated debate, which pitted a group of staunch campaigners against mostly older members, many of whom lamented that admitting women would change the British establishment forever Fortress Garrick’s character.

The club did not comment on the meeting, which lasted nearly two hours, or the outcome of the vote, and members asked not to be named because they were asked not to discuss the matter. They said the debate was civil and voting was conducted electronically and went smoothly.

The Garrick Club has long welcomed female guests, including at the communal tables in the magnificent restaurant within the club’s grand building in Covent Garden. However, women were banned from the members’ lounge known as “Under the Stairs,” where men gathered after dinner to smoke and drink.

While The Garrick is not London’s only men’s club, it is certainly the most star-studded, with its membership list including actors Brian Cox, Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Fry; Music Sting and Mark Knopfler; BBC World Affairs Editor John Simpson; and UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden. King Charles III was an honorary member.

Mr. Cox and Mr. Fry publicly expressed support for admitting women. Last week, Simpson posted on social media that he and many other members, including Sting and Knopfler, would find it impossible to stay at the club if the club did not vote to change the rules.

The last time members voted on whether to admit women was in 2015, with a slim majority (50.5%) in favor. But at the time, the club’s charter required a two-thirds majority to change club rules. Members voted narrowly on Tuesday to change that threshold to a simple majority, according to two members who spoke on condition of anonymity.

As the debate unfolded in recent weeks, some members appeared to be swayed by a legal opinion written by outside attorney David Pannick, which argued that there was nothing in the club’s rules that prevented it from admitting women. Mr Pannick’s conclusion relied on a legal interpretation of English law that the pronoun “he” also means “she” unless expressly provided otherwise.

Pannick, an expert in human rights law, represented former Prime Minister Boris Johnson before a parliamentary committee investigating the scandal over parties held at 10 Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown.

Two club members – David Neuberger, the former president of the UK Supreme Court, and Jonathan Sumption, a former court judge – wrote in support of Panick’s argument. But legal opinions from other members, which were also debated during Tuesday’s two-hour meeting, which allowed members to participate remotely, reached significantly different conclusions.

Those opposed to admitting women point to the fact that there are several women-only social clubs in London, including the University Women’s Club. There were also male-only clubs like White’s Club that didn’t even allow women in as guests.

However, the protracted controversy over its female members has become an embarrassment for members, particularly senior government officials, whose identities were revealed in a list leaked to London newspaper The Guardian.

Two senior British officials have felt pressure to resign from the club: Secret Intelligence Service chief Richard Moore and Cabinet secretary Simon Keyes, who oversees nearly half a million public servants.

Mr Case defended his membership, telling parliament he was trying to reform an “ancient” institution from within rather than “throwing stones from the outside”. Mr Moore’s membership appears to run counter to his efforts to bring more racial and gender diversity to Britain’s spy agency MI6.

Other members have been outspoken against the men-only policy, arguing that it runs counter to the ethos and values ​​of Garrick, which attracts luminaries from the arts and literature.

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