Charles III has now been formally crowned as King in a ceremony with deep historical roots that reflect the institution’s long history. But what about the monarchy’s future? Craig Prescott discusses whether the UK is willing to consider the major constitutional change of becoming a republic, and concludes that should such a change take place, it will need to coincide with an underlying change in political culture in order to be anything other than symbolic.
The British public, as Brexit underlined, is not necessarily averse to major constitutional change. The start of a new reign provides an opportunity to reappraise the monarchy. Such a reappraisal is already taking place in many of the 14 Commonwealth realms.
In June 2022, Australia appointed an Assistant Minister for the Republic, with the intention that Australia will move towards becoming a republic after the next election, due in 2025. Over the next few years, referendums on whether to become a republic are likely in Antigua and Barbuda and Jamaica. Belize has formed a People’s Constitutional Commission to review its constitution, including the question of whether to become a republic. There is no reason, in principle, why such a reappraisal should not take place in the UK.
Constitutionally, the core argument for the monarchy was that it could function as a pressure valve in times of political crisis. If necessary, a Prime Minister could be dismissed, or a Parliament dissolved. Especially during the reign of Elizabeth II, that argument diminished almost to vanishing point as the personal prerogative powers of the monarch became increasingly regulated by convention and law. For example, the Cabinet Manual (paragraph 2.12), and events after the 2010 general election made clear that the monarch plays no active role in the formation of government even if an election returns a hung parliament.
Instead, the primary political argument for the monarchy is that it provides a space in public life which is beyond day-to-day party politics. Through their role as Head of Nation, the monarch seeks to ‘represent the nation back to itself’. Most notably, this can be seen on occasions such as Remembrance Sunday, when the monarch leads the nation in an act of remembrance which commands broad and deep, but not total, support across the political spectrum and in the country at large. In this way, there is a separation between the state and the government of the day.Continue reading