We're sitting on a constitutional timebomb

By Jonathan Bartley
June 16, 2009

On Sunday’s Big Questions (BBC1) I suggested that as a country we were sitting on a ‘constitutional timebomb’ – something which Republic has picked up here: http://www.republic.org.uk/blog/?p=209

I see that Lord Rogers has today called for a review of Prince Charles’ powers, following his intervention over the proposed development on the site of Chelsea Barracks. But what we need, particularly in the context of Gordon Brown’s announcement that a written constitution will be seriously considered, is all the powers of the monarchy to be reviewed and reformed. This may be the last real chance before we have a new monarch, as it is unlikely that the next Government will make a move in that direction.

It is often said that the monarch has no power. Actually the monarch signs bills into law, appoints the Prime Minister, and dissolves Parliament. The only thing that prevents the monarch from exercising these powers against the wishes of Parliament and the Prime Minister, is convention. There is no law or statute to this effect. We rely for constitutional stability on the good nature and compliance of an unelected and unaccountable individual from a family that has a reputation for eccentricity.

This is a constitutional timebomb waiting to go off. So far we have been lucky. But what happens when a more political monarch with strong views on a range of issues becomes head of state? Are we going to leave it to chance that Charles will suddenly quieten down completely, and at no time intervene politically (in contrast to the last few decades). It would only take one exercise of his powers to throw the constitution into crisis.

It is clearly time to address this.

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