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Could The Queen Settle The Brexit Crisis?

By
B.A. Political Science, Member of Tolerance.ca®

British monarchy dates back to the 800s. There have been 66 Kings and Queens of England and Britain since the year of 827. The powers and duties of British monarchy have evolved over hundreds of years. The Queen carries out some official, ceremonial, diplomatic, and representative responsibilities. She is not involved in politics and it is prime minister`s duty to carry out the burden of politics for her. Besides, The Queen`s executive powers are limited by the British constitution. Even though, she could rule the Kingdom if she wishes, she reigns, but she does not govern. As a well, she has a symbolic role in Britain and in other commonwealth realms like Canada and Australia. She has the power to appoint or dismiss the Prime Minister and any minister, she can summon, prorogue, and dissolve Parliament, she can make war and peace, she can regulate the civil service, and she is the commander in chief of the armed forces in the U.K. and in other commonwealth realms. However, she only uses her royal prerogatives on the advice of the Prime Minister. In sum, the Queen is politically neutral and she does not govern the nation. Nevertheless, the Queen could resolve the constitutional crisis by using her royal prerogatives if she wishes. The Queen could solve the Brexit crisis as Governor General John Kerr settled the 1975 Australian constitutional crisis.

                To begin with, British monarchs used to govern Britain as they pleased. At the time, the monarch was the sole ruler of the Kingdom. After a while, subjects were no longer happy at being ruled by an unelected ruler. This all started when King James II prorogued Parliament and decided to rule the nation without Parliament`s consent in 1685. People feared that the monarch intended to use his royal prerogatives to promote Catholicism. Some protestants accepted it and liked the concept of religious liberty, but others feared that the King`s actions would favour conversions to Catholicism. The King worshipped freedom of religion and he appointed some Catholic officers to the army. In 1688, seven bishops refused to read King James II`s Royal Declaration of Indulgence in their churches. This royal statement was used to extend religious liberty to Protestant nonconformists and Roman Catholics by suspending the execution of disobedient subjects. As a result, the seven bishops were prosecuted because they refused to comply with the King`s request; still, they won the famous criminal trial. The King was really angry about the acquittal and he felt embarrassed about it. As well, King James II was not happy that the English and Scottish Parliaments did not repeal the Test Acts. Even though, this triggered widespread riots all over the Kingdom after he lost the confidence of the Church after the trial of the seven bishops. In 1689, King James II was removed from office by Parliament. The aftermath was the enactment of the Bill of Rights which limited the powers of the monarchs. Besides, this legislation included several constitutional principles such as: right of regular Parliament, free elections, and freedom of speech in Parliament. Besides, the bill prevented any Catholic person from becoming King. These events led to modern constitutional monarchy and Parliament became the highest source of authority since the King James II era which is also known at the Glorious Revolution. This revolution led to greater authority of Parliament and the end of absolute monarchy in Britain; this is because the Bill of Rights defined King`s power which limited royal power. As a result, Parliament became the supreme legal authority in the United Kingdom.

                Nowadays, monarchs are considered as symbols rather than true sources of power. Nevertheless, they still have several royal prerogatives, but they rarely use them. Queen`s powers are found in the convention of the British constitution. Vernor Bogdanor, a King`s College London professor, describes royal powers as: “The Queen’s powers rest on convention. She’s got quite wide legal powers but in a constitutional monarchy she shouldn’t use them except in very extreme circumstances, which I don’t think these would be.” For that reason, Her Majesty should only use her royal prerogatives in very exceptional and extreme circumstances to protect the nation; she cannot use her powers if there is an emergency that the Executive and the Parliament cannot cope with. Professor Bagodanor told the Guardian that: “It’s not for the Queen to use any discretionary power. And during her reign she has acted throughout on the advice of her prime minister and it has proved a good rule. If parliament is unhappy with anything, it is for parliament to take the relevant actions,” Therefore, some political experts do not consider Brexit as a national emergency in which the Queen should intervene. Still, some experts think that the Queen could easily dismiss the prime minister if he refuses to resign after losing a confidence vote in the Commons. Thomas Eason, Nottingham University researcher, thinks that the Queen can use her royal prerogative to dismiss the head of government.

                However, the last British monarch who got involved in government`s affairs in Britain was King William IV in 1832. The king used his power to pick his favourite conservative for prime minister; he did not want Parliament`s preferred candidate as head of government. This was during the Reform Crisis which was about the enactment of new election rules. The Duke of Wellington, the Prime Minister, was strongly against the reform to modernize election rules. King William IV dismissed the prime minister and he appointed Earl Grey to carry out these electoral reforms. However, there was public unrest and Early Grey had to resign. Still, the reforms were adopted by Parliament and the number of voters increased from 366,000 to 650,000 people. This was about 18% of the total adult-male population in England and Wales at the time of the reform. Nevertheless, this reform was not a success because several subjects were excluded from voting. This was the last time a British King got involved in politics in the United Kingdom. Thereby, he was the last monarch to use his power without Parliament`s or Prime Minister`s consent.

                On the other hand, the Australian Queen`s representative solved a constitution crisis which made a government shutdown in 1975. As a result, Australian Governor General got involved in politics when the national government was shut down due to no money supply from Parliament. Labour Prime Minister Whitlam could not get his budget approved by the Liberal Senate. The Labour government had a majority of seats in the lower house, but not in the upper house. The upper house was not happy that the Whitlam government got involved in many scandals. As a result, there was a government shut down because money supply was blocked by the Senate. As a result, the Queen`s representative, Governor General Sir John Kerr, dismissed Labour Prime Minister Whitlam and he appointed Liberal Leader Malcolm Fraser as a caretaker prime minister to settle the ongoing crisis. Malcolm Fraser promised to trigger elections after being sworn in as head of government. The dismissal of the prime minister was made on economic grounds rather than on constitutional grounds. In 1975, Governor General Kerr explains his decision to dismiss the prime minister as follow: ¨a Prime Minister who cannot obtain supply, including money for carrying on the ordinary services of government, must either advise a general election or resign. If he refuses to do this I have the authority and indeed the duty under the Constitution to withdraw his Commission as Prime Minister…the confidence of both Houses on supply is necessary to ensure its provision…if he cannot get supply he must resign or advise an election.¨ As a result, the Queen`s representative directly intervened in politics by dismissing the prime minister and by appointing the opposition leader in order to end the government shut down. Therefore, this shows that royal prerogatives can be used in order to end a political crisis.

                In sum, the Queen could settle Brexit. She could dismiss the prime minister and she could appoint a new prime minister if the leader breaks the law as it is likely to happen because Johnson refuses to respect a bill requesting him to delay the Brexit deadline. Hannah White, Deputy Director of the Institute for Government, told Channel 4 News on September 9th: ¨“I think it would be open to the Queen to sack him and put someone else in who she felt could command the confidence of the House…I think if you have a Prime Minister who is openly breaking the law, she could do that…It comes down to the Queen and that is why this is deeply undesirable.¨ Therefore, the Queen can safeguard the British legal system by dismissing a prime minister who breaks the law. However in Britain, Robert Hazell, a University College London professor, explains to The Guardian that she could only dismiss the prime minister if the Commons clearly suggests the name of a prime minister to be appointed. Nevertheless, the Queen should be kept out of politics and everyone expects that the head of government resigns if he breaks the law or loses the confidence of the Commons.

                Finally, most political observers are puzzled by the Brexit strategy of the Johnson government. Boris Johnson triggered a constitutional crisis by defying Parliament. The government lost control of Parliament because it claimed that Parliament was against the will of the people. Besides, the government failed to comply with several parliamentary requests under the premierships of Theresa May and Boris Johnson. There is a deadlock between the executive and legislative branches. Consequently, the Queen could settle this crisis because Parliament fails to trigger elections and the prime minister ignores the will of Parliament. Hence, royal prerogatives could be used for the national interest. The Governor General of Australia settled a constitutional crisis by using his royal prerogatives by appointing a new prime minister. As a result, a short time after this appointment, elections were triggered and a fresh government was elected. However, this was seen as a very controversial move by many Australians. In contrast, Her Majesty has always remained neutral about politics; she has never carried the burden of politics. Even though, she could use her royal powers for the national interest, she would never do that. She has always respected constitutional conventions. For that reason, she has never used her royal prerogatives without seeking the advice of the prime minister. The Queen is likely not to settle the Brexit crisis and Parliament will have to get its act together to find solutions about Brexit. The Queen never gets involved in politics; she remains neutral regardless of any political outcome. Queen Elizabeth II`s length of reign was due to her commitment to stay out of politics.

 

September 17, 2019



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Yannick B. Vallee
By Yannick B. Vallee

Yannick B. Vallee is a political scientist who recently graduated from Bishop’s University (Quebec, Canada) in the BA program of political science. He also has a college degree of Business Administration with a specialization in marketing. Nowadays,  he specializes in American, Canadian... (Read next)

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