New Times,
New Thinking.

30 April 2011updated 17 Jan 2012 6:01am

Republicanism, the morning after

Has the end of the monarchy now slipped out of sight?

By David Allen Green

The monarchy looks like it is here to stay a while longer.

The wonderful — and popular — spectacle of yesterday’s wedding of William and Catherine reminded all republicans that there is a genuine and deep domestic regard for the royal family.

If the sentiments manifested yesterday continue, only a dedicated anti-monarchist would campaign to deprive the British people of the prospect of having their Queen Kate.

It is hard enough as it is to promote republicanism as practical politics. After all, we still have bishops and hereditary lords in the upper house some 100 years after Lloyd George launched the phoney war of the peers vs the people.

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Unless the royal family themselves elect not to continue — and stranger things have happened in history — then it is almost impossible to conceive of a set of circumstances where the United Kingdom is under a monarchy one moment and, presumably, a United Republic the next.

It wouldn’t be straightforward even if we were able to get close to proclaiming a republic.

For example, without a single codified constitution, the Crown continues to be the closest we actually have to a unified concept of the State in our domestic public law. It is the Crown-in-Parliament which accords primary legislation its (supposed) supremacy; the Courts continue to dispense (supposed) justice on behalf of the Crown, which (oddly) also gets to prosecute almost all criminal cases; and judicial reviews of government actions are also done in the Queen’s name.

Some executive acts continue to be done under the “royal prerogative” which really means they are done without any other legal basis at all. Bizarrely, even a great deal of central government contracting is done on the delightful fiction that they are actually contracting as the Queen. One suspects she is not personally aware of all these IT projects purchased on her behalf.

And there is the political gap the abolition of the monarchy would leave.

In one way, the significance of the Crown is not so much that it has power, but the power it prevents others having. This is particularly important in a political system where the head of government invariably has control of the lower house of the legislature and substantial influence over the upper house.

Although the Queen rarely has been called upon to exercise any of her residual powers, the simple fact there are things which a Prime Minister cannot do without the Queen’s consent or counsel prevents an already powerful executive from having at least the form of absolute power.

As a republican, I had rather hoped that, once the Queen passes away, there would be a real opportunity for serious discussion about a republic and a codified constitution. It may well be that having Charles as king could still be a trigger for a republic that cannot be offset by the charms of the Duchess of Cambridge (who will, presumably, then be the Princess of Wales).

There could be other events that could shake up the republican cause.

But, notwithstanding the serious setbacks the monarchy have had over the last two decades, a republic now seems a long way away.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

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