What happens when The Queen goes?

christopher_lee180-11

9th September 2015. London.

How long will the British have a monarchy as we know it today?

The Windsors live a long time. The English monarchy is as old as Denmark’s and Japan’s.

England has had a king or queen since Athelstan defeated all comers at the Battle of Brunanburh in 937. The 1536-43 Acts brought the Welsh on board. The Scots in 1707. The Irish in 1801.

With a brief 17th century interlude that has been a popular arrangement.  Today fewer than 10 percent of the polled population of the United Kingdom would speak against the present monarch nor the monarchy.

But what of the future? Change is coming and its first stages are not so far off and probably before the death of the Queen.

For example: The Queen’s powers are limited but her signature of approval has considerable constitutional significance. We see many photographs of the Queen working at her Red Boxes.  These photo-ops are to show that the monarch has a real job. Bills do not become Acts of Parliament until the monarch’s signature is attached. There are many more examples that rightly royal approval has a constitutional role.

Today the Queen understands and signs documents that will enter the British political archive that are reminders that in theory at least the monarch is the safeguard against unsafe political motive. That is how it has been for centuries although the last royal veto was as long ago as 1708 when Queen Anne refused to sign a bill to reorganise the Scottish militia.  Today the signature and the understanding of what goes on in her name remains all important.

The queen is 90 next year. There are no signs of imperfect understanding. But what might happen if she decided (or others) that she no longer had the facility to understand fully and sign with all that authority meant?

Then without public knowledge an Act of Parliament based on the 1811 Regency Act would delegate some of the Queen’s powers to the Prince of Wales. His signature would replace the Queen’s. The unwritten constitutional commitment would continue and this would be the reminder of the single most important role of the monarch: approval.

But then we reach another stage in the monarchy’s role. Once a period of mourning has followed her death, Australia will be the first of the Commonwealth countries to do away with the monarch as head of state.  New Zealand, already exploring the idea of removing the Union Flag from its own national flag may follow. Canada too?  Possibly.  At least one Caribbean Commonwealth member will appoint a president.  So the monarch’s role will be reduced.

The next phase will be the future of the major institutions in the British Isles.  The House of Lords will after many attempts be reformed. In the extreme, it could be wholly elected. The monarch therefore would have no place in the new assembly. The Church of England will be disestablished and so not be the official Christian church in the UK and the monarch as earthly leader of that Church will have no place.

The institutions are collapsing and in a couple of decades will not be anything like they are are today.  The monarch’s task as titular head of those institutions will not exist.

Then we have identity.  The monarch’s role is to provide an heir and then reflect the identity of the nation. That identity is changing.  While there has been much said and written about the Queen presiding over the dismantling of the Empire, little or nothing has been mentioned about the dismantling of her own kingdom.  Under Elizabeth II the devolution of powers and the very likelihood of independence of at least Scotland has signalled the crumbling of the United Kingdom.

It could be that by the time we get to Prince George, there will be very little to rule and not even a signature required. Maybe that is sixty years ahead. Maybe monarchy will be redundant by then.

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