The power of the crown has passed from Monarch to Prime Minister, asserts leading Law expert


A University of Glasgow Law expert explodes the myths that the Crown is nothing more sinister than an empty bauble on display in the Tower of London and that the Queen is little more than a harmless figurehead in his new book, 'Our Republican Constitution'. Professor Adam Tomkins also asserts that that the true - and awesome - power of the Crown has passed from monarch to Prime Minister.

The provocative book makes the case for a British republic, argues for a Prime Minister who is fully accountable to Parliament and asserts the need to excise the Crown and its powers from our constitution.

Professor Tomkins contends that the Prime Minister's ability to use the Crown's prerogative powers makes for unaccountable and undemocratic government. When Tony Blair declared war on Iraq he used the Crown's prerogative powers. When ministers in John Major's government sought to withhold crucial evidence from the criminal courts in cases such as the Matrix Churchill trial they used the prerogative powers of the Crown (it was the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial which led to the Scott report on arms-to-Iraq). When Mrs Thatcher abolished trade unions at GCHQ she, too, was using the Crown's prerogative powers. In the Prime Minister's hands the powers of the Crown are both real and coercive.

Professor Tomkins, from the University of Glasgow, said: "The problem with the government's use of these ancient powers is that no-one is able to hold the government to account. Because of Britain's proud monarchic traditions, both Parliament and the courts back off in reverence when the government clothes itself in the Crown's regalia. In turn, the government is subjected to only weakened, diluted scrutiny. The more the government uses the power of the Crown, the more unaccountable it becomes.

"We need to excise the Crown and its powers from our constitution. We need, in short, a republican constitution."

Professor Tomkins also argues Britain already has the makings of a republican constitution. As the nineteenth-century constitutionalist Walter Bagehot suggested, in Britain 'a republic has insinuated itself beneath the folds of a monarchy'. The British constitution was forged in the revolutionary turmoil of the 17th century. Civil War, regicide, Commonwealth and Protectorate, the restoration of the Crown and the 'glorious' revolution: these are the foundations on which today's constitution rests. These events were profoundly informed by a sense of republicanism -by a sense that there is a need to hold the King and government to political account through the scrutiny of the House of Commons.

Professor Tomkins added: "The key feature of republican constitutionalism is that those in power should be accountable to the people's elected representatives in Parliament. This already is the case in Britain, some of the time. But not when the government uses the Crown's prerogative powers, and this is why we need to excise the Crown from the constitution. Not because the Queen is unelected. Not because her grandson wore a Nazi uniform to a fancy-dress party. But because the Crown is an obstacle to the democratic fundamental that a government should be fully and openly accountable to the people in whose name it purports to rule.

"All government powers should be conferred upon the government by the people's elected representatives assembled in Parliament. Crown prerogatives should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, by legislation. As for the monarchy, it does not need replacing. We do not need a President. We already have a head of state in the making - the Prime Minister. But what we do not have is a Prime Minister who is fully accountable to Parliament and people. A republican constitution would put this right."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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