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Has the Queen failed her subjects?

January 11, 2014

Views of the British monarchy and Royal Family are somewhat mixed. There is a large and fanatical fan club, including many Americans; there is increasing criticism of Royal finances including the tax status of the Duchy of Cornwall; but I sense a silent majority of those with no fixed opinion. Surprisingly there is very little discussion on the constitutional role of the monarch.

Each year a large number of executive decisions are made by Order in Council. As far as I know the Queen has never failed to approve any such Order, and neither did her father before her. The vast majority of Orders in Council concern relatively trivial administrative and ceremonial matters. I have no problem with these. A minority however concern much more significant issues and I would pick out in particular ratification of trade treaties. Currently the UK has 94 Bilateral Investment Treaties in force. Each of these provides that major corporations can sue the British government for any loss of profits arising from (often necessary and proportionate) regulation. It is argued that the UK derives net benefits from these agreements, but it is undeniable that national governments have ceded huge amounts of power not only to the EU, which we all know about, but also to corporations. Very few people know this and parliament has never been properly consulted.

If the Queen refused any Order in Council it would of course create a constitutional crisis, but what if she said that these matter ought to be decided by Parliament and declined to say yea or nay? Of course she would have to announce her intention in advance. How then would the establishment react?

They might try to persuade the Queen to allow prince Charles to deputise – he already does on occasions I believe – but surely he would not be so disloyal as not to follow her example. They might try to get her judged to have lost mental capacity, and seek to appoint a regent – but who? In any case as the Queen is the most respected member of the Royal family, would they get away with it?

The biggest hold the establishment has over the Royal Family is finance, whether it be the size of the civil list or taxation; but it ought not to be a stranglehold. The Royal Family could well afford to economise drastically without hardship. In any case the establishment has an interest in retaining our ostentatious style of monarchy to distract attention from the reality of elective dictatorship. If the Queen really cared about the interests of her subjects, as I believe she did at the time of her coronation, she would not allow herself to be blackmailed by financial considerations.

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