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What would be the name of a republican UK (without monarchy)?
April 11, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

What would happen to the name of the United Kingdom if it became a republic? Anything?

A randomly specific question. All the talk about the royal wedding has had me reading about British monarchy, government and republicanism (I'm an American, so I don't feel strongly about it either way), and a random question came to mind.

Seeing as the United Kingdom, is well, a United Kingdom, has Republic or any other pro-republican group made any statement about what would happen if the monarchy were actually abolished? What would be likely?

Perhaps this is obvious, and it'll just default to the "United Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." Or there will be no change at all. I'm just curious, though.

(I don't want this to become a debate about monarchy vs. republicanism, these threads already exist. I'm just wondering about this particular subject.)
posted by andrewesque to Law & Government (40 answers total)
 
This question doesn't really have an answer. Any plan to abolish the monarchy would have to address this matter based on what was popular or feasible, and abolishing the monarchy is today neither popular nor feasible.

People use the terms "Britain" and "Great Britain" to refer to the UK, even though it technically refers to only a part of the UK. Those terms are good candidates for a new short country name.

Cromwell instituted the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland, but I don't see that happening again. (And what about Wales?)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:37 AM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


It would be decided by the new governing body in the form of passing a law. There's no style manual for nation-states to refer to on this issue. Plenty of "republics" are actually no such thing; its just a name.
posted by General Tonic at 11:38 AM on April 11, 2011


Assuming Cromwell is resurrected and the Monarchy is thrown out for some reason, United Republic doesn't sound so unlikely. A less likely name would be Commonwealth of Great Britain and Northern Ireland as well, though that may be avoided so as to not confuse with the Commonwealth of Nations.

I wonder whether United Republic would be pluralised in such a case. But really, the answer's so "out there", you'd might as well be asking what the US would be called if it were taken over by communists.
posted by Senza Volto at 11:39 AM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's nearly impossible to answer this question. There's no "default" way to name a country; there are plenty of "Republics" that don't pass even the slightest smell test for Republic-ness by any sane standard.

A world in which the UK was actually dropping the Monarchy in favor of a formally republican system of government would be a very different world than the one we live in - maybe we'll be in that world in ten years, or twenty, but definitely not tomorrow or next Thursday. It also would depend heavily on the factors that led to the end of the monarchy. For example, you could imagine that an ongoing economic recession increasing hostility to the Monarchy's drain on public coffers; that's another world yet again from one in which, for instance, a newly-crowned King Charles says some really stupid things that make people uncomfortable with him, while William makes it clear that he's not interested in accepting the crown yet. Both of which are very different scenarios from one in which, say, massive social change makes the formalization of class inherent in a system of monarchy & nobility undesirable for much of the population.

Republic? Commonwealth? Coalition? A world where the people of the United Kingdom wanted to ditch the monarchy entirely is unlike this world enough that it isn't too much to imagine, for example, that it might lead to an entirely different status for the constituent countries - maybe just one where an independent Wales, Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland all exist as separate countries, but with EU-style open borders and extensive treaties coordinating their activities.

All of which is just a lot of ways of saying "This question involves a make-believe scenario so hypothetical that we're just into making-stuff-up territory."
posted by Tomorrowful at 11:40 AM on April 11, 2011 [5 favorites]


Tony Benn introduced the Commonwealth of Britain Bill in 1991. Interestingly, that Bill would solve the problem of the name 'Britain' excluding Northern Ireland by ending British sovereignty over Northern Ireland.
posted by knapah at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2011


Just to note, I do realize this is totally hypothetical/extremely unlikely in the near future. I guess I'm just wondering on a broader scale what British republicanism thinks of national symbols, pageantry, formal stuff, etc., and the name of the nation just stood out as the most obvious part to me.

Thanks for all the answers so far!
posted by andrewesque at 11:41 AM on April 11, 2011


(As in, stuff like the national anthem. I'm assuming "God Save the Queen" would be replaced with a new song, for example, but that seems a more obvious situation.)
posted by andrewesque at 11:43 AM on April 11, 2011


Another interesting question is what the national anthem would be. Jerusalem is hugely popular, but this new republic presumably wouldn't have an established religion. Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory are candidates, but both have religious and monarchical connotations. What about Imagine?
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:46 AM on April 11, 2011


Even further, I don't think a name change would even be necessary. The "United Kingdom" makes a great brand name - it's already more or less a given that the "Kingdom" is only as much a kingdom as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is "democratic". Keeping it on as a legacy name could be possible as well.
posted by Senza Volto at 11:50 AM on April 11, 2011


The most likely scenario for the end of the monarchy is full incorporation of the UK into the EU. at which point the UK wouldn't be a sovereign nation at all, republic or otherwise.

In that case, the UK would be a province (or a couple of them) within a larger pan-European nation, and any names would simply reflect geography.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:52 AM on April 11, 2011


Republic have called for a new anthem, but want 'debate' on it, rather than suggesting one particular song themselves.
posted by knapah at 11:53 AM on April 11, 2011


Chocolate Pickle: The most likely scenario for the end of the monarchy is full incorporation of the UK into the EU. at which point the UK wouldn't be a sovereign nation at all, republic or otherwise.

Even the countries that are members of the EU have their own names; some even have monarchs. The Republic of France, for example, or the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Senza Volto:Even further, I don't think a name change would even be necessary. The "United Kingdom" makes a great brand name - it's already more or less a given that the "Kingdom" is only as much a kingdom as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea is "democratic". Keeping it on as a legacy name could be possible as well.

I'm actually inclined to agree with this. After all, the UK is a place where Parliament is paramount, and defines both who the Monarch is (ie, "This person and their descendants") and the criteria for actually being King/Queen (ie, "No Catholics.") It doesn't seem too unreasonable to say "This United Kingdom is a Kingdom, but without any particular King; the Monarchy is an abstract thing that is no longer vested in any one individual, but rather in the sovereignty of the people of the United Kingdom." Or something like that. Point is, it's not like the Monarch has much in the way of actual power these days, and plenty of places have names from now-discarded pasts - look at New York, which doesn't have much in common with York, or even America, named for a long-dead explorer with no modern relevance. Rome is still Rome, even though we know Romulus was probably a myth. So why not keep the Kingdom a "Kingdom" after the King's gone?
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:07 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


The "United Kingdom" makes a great brand name

True, though it stands apart from the various self-identifiers (British, English/Scottish/Welsh/Nornironic, etc.) and has a degree of clunkiness to it. Combine that with its international blurriness (there will be no "United Kingdom" team at the London Olympics, for example) and you have something that's more easily dispensable than many of the other embedded bits of monarchy.
posted by holgate at 12:08 PM on April 11, 2011


I know it sounds snarky, but I mean it somewhat seriously: Since it has been in vogue for corporations and other entities for quite some time, what about naming the country "UK" (or, shudder to think, "uk"), where the letters don't stand for anything? (Or at least that being proposed and roundly ridiculed.) Either that or same vaguely Latin (or Anglo-Saxon?) sounding made-up word that sounds like it would translate to some great national ideal, but doesn't really.

If such a state of affairs ever did come to pass, I can imagine some bureaucracy being formed on "The Name Issue" and bringing in various branding and political consultants. Something tells me coming up with a new name for an established country in the 21st century would be at times awkward, hilarious, and frustrating for all parties.
posted by SuperNova at 12:13 PM on April 11, 2011


So why not keep the Kingdom a "Kingdom" after the King's gone?

I'm drawn to that line of thinking, because there's something very British about it, but the process of moving to a republic generally mitigates against it: republics don't happen because the monarch nips off on a caravanning weekend and never comes back. There's a certain amount of import to the process, seen even in the more genteel jettisoning of HMQ as head of state for various Commonwealth countries, where the last Governor General becomes the first president.

Of course, you could square the circle and tap into history with an elected monarchy, but that's probably a harder sell than republicanism.
posted by holgate at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2011


SuperNova, the ".su" domain is still in use, even though the Soviet Union is gone.

Tomorrowful, the EU isn't yet fully formed.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:19 PM on April 11, 2011


I'm actually inclined to agree with this. After all, the UK is a place where Parliament is paramount, and defines both who the Monarch is (ie, "This person and their descendants") and the criteria for actually being King/Queen (ie, "No Catholics.")

This is technically false, and when talking about these things, "technically" is all that matters. Parliament exists because the monarch granted it rights, and the monarch could theoretically revoke those rights at any time. The Queen can make law by fiat, but she chooses not to, because then someone would stop her from being Queen any more.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:25 PM on April 11, 2011


yeah, we'd probably go with one of the fallback names. We've got tons of them...
posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on April 11, 2011


"Of course, you could square the circle and tap into history with an elected monarchy, but that's probably a harder sell than republicanism."

Arguably, republicanism is a form of elected monarchy - in Parliamentary democracies, the Prime Minister's spouse has no official position in the government, but the President and First Lady do, just as the Queen and her consort.

As for what may change, with US' threat to shut down government because Congress couldn't pass a budget, I noted to an American friend that Canada has not had a government or a budget for a couple of weeks, and I still got my paycheque as a civil servant. He asked what legal authority could issue it, and ultimately, that authority was Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of Canada (and the UK, but that's not really essential to my paycheque). There's something nice and stable about that.
posted by Kurichina at 12:30 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


in Parliamentary democracies, the Prime Minister's spouse has no official position in the government, but the President and First Lady do, just as the Queen and her consort.

"First Lady" is an honorary position with no basis in law. I would be interested to hear of a democratic republic where this is not the case.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 12:35 PM on April 11, 2011


OK, but name a monarchy where anyone pays even half the attention to the prospective PM's spouse that American's pay to prospective First Ladies.
posted by Kurichina at 12:37 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arguably, republicanism is a form of elected monarchy

Oh, completely, and HMQ is a descendent of the appointed stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, so the lines between the two aren't always clear.
posted by holgate at 12:42 PM on April 11, 2011


holgate: "Of course, you could square the circle and tap into history with an elected monarchy, but that's probably a harder sell than republicanism."

A surprisingly common idea.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:44 PM on April 11, 2011


Kurichina: "OK, but name a monarchy where anyone pays even half the attention to the prospective PM's spouse that American's pay to prospective First Ladies."

I'd say this is a natural outcome of combining the head of state and head of government in one person.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:45 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Count me in for speculating that it would remain the United Kingdom--it hasn't been the United Queendom all this years, has it?
posted by stevis23 at 12:47 PM on April 11, 2011


The Queen can make law by fiat, but she chooses not to, because then someone would stop her from being Queen any more.

Why do you say that? I'm pretty sure this is nonsense, but my legal qualifications are limited to a Bachelor's degree in English law.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 1:01 PM on April 11, 2011


Why do you say that?

This doesn't have any practical bearing, because it would never happen without resulting in chaos. But here is some simple reasoning:

1) Clearly, prior to Parliament, the monarch was able to decree law unilaterally.
2) Parliament can advise the monarch to assent to laws. They have this power because historical monarchs agreed to it.
3) Those monarchs did not bind their successors from revoking their agreements. Indeed, they probably could not, under the doctrine of sovereignty.
4) The Queen makes laws by giving Royal Assent. If the monarch chose to write and sign a law revoking the rights of Parliament, or indeed the entirety of statutory law, nothing could legally prohibit it. (The British people would turn to extra-legal measures.)

The British constitution is largely based on convention, and conventions can be overturned. Let's remember that the reigning monarch rules by the Grace of God, and she is the Fount of Justice.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:31 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is technically unanswerable, but we can hazard a plausible guess based on the renaming of other British territories after they left the Union. The Irish state (formerly known as the Irish Free State, or the Republic of Ireland) now calls itself 'Ireland'. The Canadian state (though still technically the Dominion of Canada) now calls itself 'Canada'. So it's reasonable to speculate that the British state, if it went through a major constitutional upheaval involving the abolition of the monarchy, would end up as 'Britain', or possibly 'Great Britain' if Scotland remained in the Union.

The name 'United Kingdom' was established by the 1707 Act of Union, and expanded to the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland' by the 1801 Act of Union. However, it's undergone quite a lot of fine-tuning over the past two centuries, as various territories have dropped out of the Union. The current name was settled by a Royal Proclamation of 1953, which declared Her Majesty to be Queen of 'the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories' (nice and vague, that last phrase), or in Latin 'Britanniarum Regnorum suorum ceterorum Regina'. Note that in Latin she is Queen of the kingdom of Britain (or Her Britannic Majesty, as it says on the passports), which strengthens my contention that in the event of a major constitutional upheaval, the obvious name for the newly constituted state would be 'Britain'.
posted by verstegan at 3:28 PM on April 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


If the monarch chose to write and sign a law revoking the rights of Parliament, or indeed the entirety of statutory law, nothing could legally prohibit it.

Sir Edward Coke would not have agreed with you. Just because the UK lacks a written constitution, it does not follow (as Americans often seem to think) that it is an absolute monarchy thinly disguised as a democracy. The constitutional powers of the monarch have been very precisely delimited over the past three hundred years, and it is absurd to dismiss this as mere 'convention' as if it could all suddenly vanish tomorrow in a puff of smoke.
posted by verstegan at 4:24 PM on April 11, 2011


Those monarchs did not bind their successors from revoking their agreements. Indeed, they probably could not, under the doctrine of sovereignty.

No. The British constitution has long accepted that the Monarch is not capable of writing law on their own. The Bill of Rights expressly denies that the Monarch has the right to suspend legislation without the approval of parliament. You might say that the Monarch has the right to suspend the Bill of Rights. But even before the Bill of Rights, monarchical power was limited.

Also, please explain this 'doctrine of sovereignty' that I've never heard of. We only ever speak about parliamentary sovereignty in the UK, that is sovereignty of the 'Queen in Parliament'.

The Queen makes laws by giving Royal Assent. If the monarch chose to write and sign a law revoking the rights of Parliament, or indeed the entirety of statutory law, nothing could legally prohibit it.

This goes against everything even the most conservative of my constitutional law lecturers and professors told me.

Most people outside the UK assume that doctrines like the divine right of kings are the long secret basis for the UK's constitutional monarchy. In fact, this doctrine was never accepted in England, and parliament's consent has always been required legislation.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 4:40 PM on April 11, 2011


Thank you all so much for your answers! They've all been super helpful; I just marked the ones that pointed out thought processes that hadn't occurred to me or information that I hadn't known before.

A couple of thoughts:

- This is assuming that the UK continues to be formed of a combination of some or all of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I'm assuming that, as verstegan alludes to, if all the constituent countries were to become independent sovereign states they would just become "England", "Scotland", "Wales," etc., as their short form and some variation thereof as a long form.
- For what it's worth, I somehow have a feeling it'd still be the "UK." The thought about the UK being a kingdom where the monarchy is vested in the people seems kind of fun, in a philosophical/thought-experiment kind of way.
posted by andrewesque at 4:43 PM on April 11, 2011


The doctrine of sovereignty that I'm referring to is the classical idea that some things have supreme power and their legal powers cannot be bound against their will. I'm sure you agree that the Queen-in-Parliament is sovereign. This implies that she (or "it") cannot be unwillingly bound by her predecessors, or she would not be truly sovereign.

The Bill of Rights expressly denies that the Monarch has the right to suspend legislation without the approval of parliament. You might say that the Monarch has the right to suspend the Bill of Rights. But even before the Bill of Rights, monarchical power was limited.

So what would prevent her from revoking those limitations too? What if she wrote and signed a law that said "All laws and conventions that would make my legal power less than absolute are hereby revoked"?

If the Bill of Rights could be revoked, you seem to be implying that the monarch has the theoretical ability to return her de jure powers to those of the early English monarchs, which is the same as what I am saying. If you're saying that this would be outrageous and unlikely to happen, I agree with you there too.

Let me put this another way: modern English law with its Queen-in-Parliament is dependent on the co-operation of the Queen with Parliament. What would happen if the Monarch stopped co-operating, and started ignoring Parliament and writing her own laws? She could not be a criminal in doing so: there is no such case as Regina v Regina. The Privy Council could declare her unfit to rule, but what if her first action was to revoke this ability?

How would the government proceed? These are their options:
1) Declare someone else to be monarch (which is illegal)
2) Have a republican revolution (also illegal)
3) Accept rule by fiat (the only legal option, and also the least likely)

So we're back to the simple fact that the Monarch has highly limited practical powers, and unlimited theoretical powers. This whole discussion is of purely semantic and philosophical interest, so it doesn't surprise me that your colleagues find it convenient to treat the monarch's de facto limitations as de jure.

As for the claim that legislation has always required the consent of Parliament, I will simply note that the institution of the English Monarchy is older than Parliament.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:22 PM on April 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd imagine that it would be called Britain - it's the oldest and most inclusive of the names. (Yes, I know that it doesn't technically include NI, but their still the "British Isles").

I'd vote for "Commonwealth of Britain," myself - there is a history of commonwealths in Britain and her colonies, and I really like the connotation or really its literal meaning: Common-Wealth or Common-Weal - the well-being of all. When people talked about a common-wealth in the 16th and 17th centuries, it still carried that meaning, and I think of it as a more powerful sentiment than just the "public good", let alone the "public things" of a republic (as badly translated by me).
posted by jb at 7:21 PM on April 11, 2011


in the event of a major constitutional upheaval, the obvious name for the newly constituted state would be 'Britain'.

Obvious for some people perhaps. This would have huge opposition from Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement gives the people of Northern Ireland the choice of whether they want to refer to themselves as British, Irish, or both. Hence the reason why Irish appears on census forms and other places which ask about ethnicity. When Gordon Browns started talking about a "British Bill of Rights" that in itself raised massive difficulties with Northern Ireland. A Bill to name the newly established UK republic Britain might get through the Commons, but there would be a huge opposition to it from Northern Irish MPs.
posted by greycap at 10:11 PM on April 11, 2011


I'm sure you agree that the Queen-in-Parliament is sovereign.

You're missing the 'in Parliament' bit. The Queen can't write laws on her own. This has constitutional significance in the UK. The government of the day - the Prime Minister and his cabinet - exercise power on behalf of the queen. If the Queen can write her own laws, so can they.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 1:52 AM on April 12, 2011


OK. History lesson.

In July 1688 James II dissolved his Parliament. In December he fled the country for France, after throwing the Great Seal of the Realm into the Thames. William of Orange, James II's brother-in-law, met groups of peers, former MPs and other important people. They advised him to hold elections. The Convention of Lords and Commons met in January 1689 and the next month offered the Crown to William and his wife Mary jointly, subject to the conditions contained in the Declaration of Right. The offer was accepted.

The Convention passed an Act asserting that it was Parliament (Crown and Parliament Act 1689) and then enacted the Bill of Rights, which incorporated the Declaration of Right.

Clearly the Convention had been summoned somewhat irregularly. There was no King to assent to the legislation it passed for three months from December 1688. William III had no hereditary legal title to the throne, and had, therefore, no authority to assent to new bills.

So, if the Queen wants to say that she can write law without the consent of Parliament, she also has to do the following:

(a) since she needs to claim legal continuity with the system of government before 1689, she must assert that all legislation passed since then was not done by a rightful parliament and is therefore legally null.

(b) she needs to claim that revolutions cannot institute new legal orders, and proclaim herself Queen of the thirteen colonies we lost in 1776.

(c) she needs to abdicate in favour of this guy, who would be the rightful heir to the Throne if the Act of Settlement was never passed by the 'illegally summoned' parliament.

Do you see the legal problems with your reasoning, EMRJKC94?
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 3:43 AM on April 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I do not! When William and Mary accepted the sovereign crown, they agreed to bind themselves to the Declaration of Right. This does not imply that they could or did bind their sovereign successors unwillingly. Their successors can revoke any agreements their predecessors made, and doing so does not make their crown disappear.

English legal authority comes from the monarch. The Queen literally cannot be charged with a crime. She has achieved Richard Nixon's dream: "When the Queen does it, that means that it's not illegal!". The monarch can scribble whatever twisted non-historical nonsense she likes, and when she gives her assent to it (or perhaps when she informs Parliament of her assent), it becomes the law. The things that prevent the monarch from doing this are practical matters, not legal matters.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 10:16 AM on April 12, 2011


English legal authority comes from the monarch.

You keep saying this, but you've provided no proof. All the greatest legal authorities on constitutional law - particularly from Dicey onward - state that sovereignty lies with the Queen-in-Parliament, not with the Monarch alone. Show me one constitutional scholar who agrees with you. One.

Even if this were true before 1689, the revolution then created a whole new legal order.

This does not imply that they could or did bind their sovereign successors unwillingly.

So the fact that we had a parliament without a King for several months, and that this Parliament imposed a series on conditions on the exercise of monarchical power and gave the crown to someone who had absolutely no prior claim to the throne - this shows nothing? You talk about 'legal matters', but if every judge, lawyer, law professor, politician and citizen disagrees with you, I think you have to accept that law derives from the common practice and perception of the population, rather than being created by a series of magical chants with an unbroken lineage back to Hammurabi.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 11:59 AM on April 12, 2011


East Manitoba is right - sovereignty traditionally rested in the monarch, and still (mostly) does. They had a war about it in the 17th century - the parliamentarians won, but then they sort of screwed up, and Charles II came back to full soveriengty. When William&Mary came in, they agreed to abide by the bill of rights which put restrictions on their powers, but the theoretical sovereignty was still in the Crown. Parliament sits at the call of the monarch.

That said, East Manitoba is wrong in saying that the Queen can't be charged with a crime. Charles I was charged with treason against England for (among other things) making a secret treaty with Scotland (two different countries at the time). Note that the authors of those charges clearly believed that kingship was a limited office and not the sovereign -- but remember that in 1660, the old order came back and all the regicides were killed or dug up (in the case of the pre-deceased Cromwell) and then their bodies were desecrated and quartered and stuff. of course, Charles I was still dead.

So basically, the monarch is the sovereign, but that doesn't mean that they can't be charged with a crime because really theoretical sovereignty doesn't matter beans next to power.
posted by jb at 10:45 PM on April 12, 2011


jb: It is true that Charles I was put on trial, but as stated here:
the King (and Queen) can do no wrong (for example the Queen cannot be prosecuted in her own courts)
In today's English courts, people are charged in the name of the Queen. Charles I was tried by the Rump Parliament in the name of the people of England. Under today's constitution, the trial of Charles I would be an illegal act, because legal power is vested in the Monarch, not the People. Every MP and Lord could be put on trial simultaneously, but the Queen cannot, because she is the Fount of Justice, and Parliament is not.

I can't find any scholars who are dealing with the specific issue of whether the Monarch can unilaterally revoke the bill of rights, perhaps because it is a de facto impossibility. However, we can use a thought experiment to prove that the Monarch can legally compel Parliament to pass a bill revoking any limitations on her authority, including the Bill of Rights.

The Queen goes to her troop of Guards and says "Help! Parliament is conspiring against me! You must go and point guns at them at once!" Like all members of the armed forces, the Queen's Guard has legally sworn to obey all orders of Her Majesty, so off they go.

The cops outside Parliament start to resist, until the Queen reminds them that they too have sworn an oath to serve not the Nation, nor the Parliament, nor the Queen-in-Parliament, but the Queen personally. The cops also know that the Queen can legally do no wrong, and therefore that no crime is taking place. The cops let the soldiers and the Queen through.

"Her Britannic Majesty," begins the Queen, "hereby requests and requires that those subjects here gathered pass a bill revoking all legal limitations on my absolute power! And if you don't do it right now, I'll hold my breath until I die, and then you'll be sorry!"

Despite the guns pointed at their heads, some MPs hesitate, but they too have sworn an oath of allegiance to the Queen personally. The oath must be followed "according to law", but there is no law saying that the Queen cannot order her Army to take over Parliament, nor that she cannot force her MPs to act, because the Queen can legally do no wrong. So they pass the bill and send British governance back to the dark ages. No crimes have taken place. Any judges who expressed dismay would need to be reminded that they, too, are sworn to serve she-who-can-legally-do-no-wrong.

This is not how it would turn out in reality, but it is how it would turn out if all the Queen's subjects followed their legal duties.

I do believe that revolutions can change the fundamental legal nature of government, but the revolution has to consist of more than the sovereign monarch simply agreeing to partially limit their personal legal power. That’s not a revolution, it’s more of a suggestion, because it is dependent on the will of the sovereign Monarch. A better example of a revolution is what happened in Japan in 1947. The Emperor remained Emperor, but he was forced to submit to the role defined by a written constitution, which was sovereign. (The constitution stated that the Emperor was merely a symbol of the State and the unity of the people.) Does anyone seriously believe that Elizabeth II derives her sovereignty from the Bill of Rights? No, the Bill of Rights is an Act of Parliament, deriving its powers from the assent of Elizabeth’s predecessors, and currently from the Queen-in-Parliament's tacit agreement.

In the Glorious Revolution, Parliament did not claim to be creating a new position which happened to be called "the monarch", or to be creating a discontinuity with the previous lineage. Mary was specifically selected because she was the daughter of King James II, and both her and her husband were of Royal blood. Parliament did not institute a new form of Sovereignty, they instituted a new Sovereign, which willingly assented to a law binding its personal power.

It is perfectly understandable that constitutional scholars promote the democratic nature of British government, because the things that the Monarch can pragmatically do are limited by public opinion (particularly the opinion of the upper classes), which is ultimately shaped by constitutional scholars. Sensible people want Britain to be fundamentally and irrevokably democratic, so they state that it is so. But what they say does not define statutory law, the highest form of law. It is what the Queen assents to that defines statutory law. The Queen is not a symbol, she is an independent person, who happens to be both sovereign and above the law.

(For the record, I'm not a Monarchist; I think David Attenborough should be elected as a ceremonial Head of State.)
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 11:24 AM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


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