Are the English people required by English law to defer to the reigning English Monarch in any way shape or form, or is it all just custom and manners at this point?
This has been addressed in other threads in the past, which dealt with it more fully than this quick summary.
The monarch has certain functions:
As head of state, he/she takes a great deal of ceremonial and routine work off the P.M.
There are quite a few prerogative powers remaining in the Crown. Most are exercised only on the “advice” (polite for direction) of the Ministers, and particularly the P.M., but a few remain exclusive to the Crown. They constitute a reserve of power that might be valuable in a Constitutional crisis at some future date.
Tying into #2, the fact that the P.M. must go through another person, however complaisant, prevents a concentration of actual power that could lead to dictatorship or related strongman status. The Queen would refuse a P.M. authority that she knows would lead to a public outcry against him.
In addition, though the Windsors are not exactly geniuses, they do have a strong sense of political common sense, accrued from having been raised and trained for the job literally since birth, and with a family tradition of service to the country (lately somewhat vitiated). Elizabeth has been in office for over 50 years; her father was there for 15 and his father for 25. One develops a strong sense of what is politically feasible over this period. The P.M.'s weekly audiences and the custom of allowing the monarch access to all important papers (“doing the boxes”) are important behind-the-scenes elements in developing policy – E2R can point out to the P.M. of the day that Winston had the same bright idea back in 1954, and was talked out of it for the following good reasons… While none of this ever becomes public (except in very rare situations), it does influence the making of public policy to a far greater extent than most people realize.
I’m Canadian, but the system, and the Monarch, are almost the same.
First, the monarch is head of state. Head honcho. If martians land and say “take me to your leader”, that would be the Monarch.
Only the Monarch (or her representative in Canada, the Governor General) can:
- Dissolve parliament (i.e. call an election)
- Open or close a session of parliament
- Swear in a prime minister, supreme court chief justice, and certain other high positions
- Sign bills into law
The position is largely ceremonial - the Monarch (or her representative) can choose to not do these things, but they better have a damn good reason. One example is the “King Byng thing”, where the Prime Minister (King) requested the Governor General (Byng) to dissolve parliament and call an election, Byng refused, and asked the leader of a different party to try to form a government.
In the US, you have a President. In Canada and Great Britain (a a number of other countries), you have a Monarch and a Prime Minister. The US president combines both the ceremonial and political heads into one person, but the British system splits these roles.
Technically, the Queen has to sign off on all UK law (not sure how it works in Canada or the rest of the commonwealth).
In practice, no monarch has refused to sign a law into passage this century, AFAIK.
I think the OP was asking not about legal authority, but about the deference shown to the Queen by the public.
The bowing or curtseying, addressing her as Your Magesty or Ma’m, not sitting till she sits down, not touching her unless invited, etc.
Is this just custom, or are there actually English laws requiring people to do this?
Posted by Polycarp:
Okay, technical question: I once read something (can’t put my hands on any cite right now) written by a British republican (i.e., monarchy-abolitionist). In response to the rhetorical but obvious question, “What difference would it make if the monarchy were abolished?” the author stated that the prime minister exercises a wide range of powers as representative of the crown – that is, royal prerogative powers – so if the monarchy were abolished, the scope of power of the p.m., or of British government as such, would be somewhat diminished. Is this true? If so, abolishing the monarchy should be high on the list of any British Libertarian (assuming there is some analogue of American anti-statist Libertarianism in the UK).
The PM, in theory, doesn’t have any power at all, beyond advisory capacity.
Votes in the Commons are merely votes on what new legislation to recommend to the Queen.
In practice, the PM and Cabinet (or in some cases, just the PM) are calling the shots.
Once a given power has been exercised, you can’t just take it away. Even if you do, ~someone~ still has to wield it. It wouldn’t just devolve to county or borough councils; unlike in the US, where states are granted powers that the Federal government cannot take away, the power of local government in Britain is strictly limited to whatever Parliament chooses to delegate. It may retract powers or even dissolve local governments as and when it sees fit.
So, even if the monarchy was abolished, the PM would still retain all his powers, simply because they can’t just disappear. Technically, all of the powers of the Cabinet are exercised by royal prerogative. Nobody can officially make pass law except the monarch. Nobody can appoint anyone (outside the civil service) except the monarch. The PM’s official capacity is still to provide advice on the running of government, by appointment to the Crown; it merely happens that the advice is always accepted.
Beyond that, there obviously no precendent by which to determine which powers the PM might still retain should be no longer by Prime Minister by leave of the Crown, but head of state in his own right. The only even slightly analogous situation was the abdication of Charles at the end of the Civil War, when the monarchy briefly ceased to exist.
To the best of my knowledge, Cromwell retained all the powers of the Crown, including governance of the Church of England.
Almost forgot to mention that the Queen does still wield some rather significant powers beyond those that she chooses not to execute:
-She is the executor of several billion pounds’ worth of Windsor holdings,
-In the event that no party in Parliament wins a majority during an election, she can choose which one will form a government essentially at her discretion. She may also direct any combination of parties to form a coalition, although I’m not sure how binding such an order is.