King Charles III is on a state visit to France, the first since his accession to the throne. A look back at the power and prerogatives available to the British monarch, and his role, more symbolic than legal.
A CONSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED POWER
Unlike France, the United Kingdom does not have a Constitution codified in a single document from which all constitutional norms would arise and which would be superior to the laws of Parliament. With the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the monarch forms the institutional entity of the “King in Parliament”.
However, the sovereign’s powers are constitutionally restricted. The limitation of its powers results first of all from the conventions of the Constitution. In addition, certain texts, such as the Bill of Rights, adopted in 1689 at the end of the Glorious Revolution, limit the powers of the Crown by consecrating the sovereignty of Parliament. As monarch, Charles III of course has a certain number of prerogatives suggesting that he would be a centerpiece of the institutional game: the promulgation of laws – which we call the Royal assent –, the appointment of the Prime Minister, the right of pardon, or the power to declare war. But almost all of these prerogatives are effectively assumed by the government, the members of which are in principle democratically elected parliamentarians.
For example, the day after the legislative elections, the monarch designates as head of government the leader of the party best placed to form a government. Finally, King Charles III now has the power to approve each new law. Obviously a symbolic act since none has been refused by the Crown since 1708. Although many legal acts are made in its name, these are the result of the democratic process.
The monarch is only the voice of the government and relies the vast majority of the time on the advice of members of Parliament, as illustrated by the traditional “King’s speech” ceremony. Each year, the Sovereign comes to present before Parliament the legislative projects of his government, the subjects which will be the subject of measures as well as the agenda for the coming session. This ceremony is based solely on the texts written by 10 Downing Street, that is to say by the Prime Minister’s services.
PREROGATIVES NOT ONLY SYMBOLIC
If the British sovereign does everything not to have an impact on the democratic process, his presence is omnipresent in the lives of his subjects. Bank notes, coins, the national anthem (God save the King), days of mourning or celebration modeled on the life of the royal family: the symbols of the monarchy are everywhere in British society.
But the monarch is not confined to a purely symbolic place in the representation of the State. On several occasions, the Queen was forced to play a role in the appointment of the head of government. In 1957 and then in 1963, no name naturally emerged to form a government, which led the Queen to make a choice, certainly dictated by consultations, but which forced her to intervene in an unusual way. The conservative party took the consequences by modifying the rules for appointing its leader. The monarch also has the right to review laws that directly concern the royal family (royal consent).
Everything is done to prevent the monarch from using his power in a personal and discretionary manner, at the risk of endangering the British Constitution, but certain constitutional uses still provide residual decision-making power to the monarch.
THE BRITISH MONARCHY: SYMBOL OF STATE STABILITY
Behind these rules of political neutrality lies above all the need to ensure the preservation of the monarchy. The fact that the head of state is not elected for a limited term allows us to maintain the stability and sustainability of institutions. Above all, the king embodies the unity of the nation by withdrawing from partisan struggles.
MAINTAINING THE STABILITY OF THE CROWN: THE CHALLENGE OF CHARLES III
It is difficult to succeed Queen Elizabeth II who managed to maintain the popularity of the monarchy despite the historical upheavals that marked her reign. Charles III not only inherits the powers of the Crown but also the sexual scandals and suspicions of tax havens that have plagued the royal family. The question today is whether Charles III will manage to stick to the principle of political impartiality, he who during his life repeatedly used his position to try to influence the content of government projects which covered subjects in which he had a particular interest.
Such is the life of a British king or queen. Endowed with the most prestigious constitutional powers, he cannot use them as he wishes. Setting yourself up as a defender of a cause is at your own risk, but above all at that of the monarchy.
This article is originally published on lessurligneurs.eu