Thoughts on UK/Commonwealth constitutional issues as of now?

I am not in any way qualified to comment on any constitutional questions that arise upon the death of Her Majesty the Queen. But several readers of this blog are. So, are there any interesting issues to discuss?

17 thoughts on “Thoughts on UK/Commonwealth constitutional issues as of now?

  1. I don’t usually push YouTube links, but Professor Anne Twomey actually is the leading authority on these issues, so look at https://youtu.be/nEW9gT0u67I.

    The interesting politics, for me anyway, is the extent to which Charles III inherits the institutional charisma of the crown. Royal prediction has a bad record. The only popular Prince of Wales in the last two centuries was Edward VIII who, despite expectations, turned out to be an active threat to the constitution, even after his abdication.

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    • Indeed. The first article I was reading about the queen’s death, I got to the part about “His Majesty the King” and was downright shocked–even though such a phrase was obviously implicit in the headline of the very article I was reading.

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    • The Canadian proclamation procedure is reported also on the CBC wesite today.

      15 minutes of fame for the Chief Herald!

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  2. I think there could be a domino effect in the remaining 14 Commonwealth Realms (other than the UK) as affection for holding onto ties with the former colonial power dissipates now that a monarch for whom many of them had a particular affection has passed on. Those unitary states – plus perhaps St Kitts – where it can be done by Parliament alone (as in Barbados last year) will go first, then those where a referendum is required will fall. If King Charles proves surprisingly popular in those countries for whatever reason, politicians could simply go about removing the legal necessity for a referendum.

    Australia and Canada are more complicated since they are federations with more rigid constitutions. The 1999 referendum in the former chiefly failed due to a lack of consensus on what powers a replacement for the Governor-General would have and how they would be chosen, but the political will to return to negotiations on that front might return in relatively short order. The leader of the Australian Greens has already spoken out in favour of moving forward with that process.

    In Canada, there doesn’t appear to be enough impetus or broad agreement to open up the 1982 settlement since the failure of The Charlottetown Accords in 1992 and the Supreme Court reference re The Senate during the Harper era. On the specific subject of The Crown, the incumbent Prime Minister also does not seem particularly keen to rock the boat.

    Within the UK the monarchy seems secure for the next 3 generations, but lots of things we’ve got used to saying and hearing over the past 70 years will now have to be ‘un-learned’ as the gender of the sovereign reverts back to what is usually expected.

    In terms of electoral systems, however, I can’t see the Commonwealth Realms in North and Central America and the Caribbean moving away from FPTP and (where they exist) appointed upper chambers anytime soon.

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    • Not so fast, at least in the South Pacific. NZ rejected a new flag in 2017 by a margin of 13.46%. Why? Because Māori saw the Union Jack as a symbol of the bicultural dispensation and their personal relationship to the Queen. If Māori voted against the symbolic act of removing the Union Jack, the actual abolition of the Crown is not going to be easy.

      Andorra has chugged along quite happily with two co-princes since 1278. The assumption that the shared monarchy is going away because it’s contrary to the Zeitgeist is somewhat overstated.

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      • That is a good point about the flag referendum, although the vote was a little closer than I remember. I’m not sure how influential the viewpoint of some of the indigenous people of Aotearoa is on voters of other ethnicities. They certainly don’t constitute a majority of the electorate there. The current Prime Minister is apparently in favour of a transition to a republic too – possibly even more so after being woken up at 4:50am to be told the news the other day, when it was dinnertime back in Britain. Either way, at least NZ’s unicameral Parliament should continue to be elected by MMP.

        As for Andorra, of its “co-princes” one is a President and the other is a Bishop. That arrangement may have endured for centuries but it was only acknowledged internationally when the 1993 Constitution was adopted. And of course, none of that is affected by this week’s events in the UK. Not sure that it’s a great comparison to the remaining Commonwealth realms.

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        • It’s not really terribly persuasive to write that the point about the flag referendum is good and then to deliver a avalanche of non sequiturs designed to show a republic referendum would do better the flag referendum.

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        • Hmm, well you introduced the Andorran non sequitur yourself. I find it equally unpersuasive to claim that something will not happen because sometimes things that appear “contrary to the Zeitgeist” persist. Moreover, to put it bluntly, the “personal link” the Maori have with Elizabeth II is now severed anyway unless they have access to direct communication with the afterlife.

          Helen Clark already stated decades ago, while in office, that she expects her country to become a republic in her lifetime and now one of her successors as Labour leader and Prime Minister has a better chance to put that into action.

          Is a referendum even required in New Zealand? I was always taught it was one of the loosest jurisdictions in the world when it came to changing things of a constitutional nature. Presumably it would have looked like very poor form if the previous government had decided to alter the flag even after consulting the voters.

          Equally, something as momentous as a change in the nature of head of state should require the consent of the people as well as more than just a simple majority in Parliament – but AFAIK that would have to be done for the sake of ‘good optics’ only.

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        • Apparently if we chuck in the sleep habits of Jacinda Ardern, a colonialist attitude to the cultural beliefs of the tangata whenua, willingness to undo biculturalism, and disregard for popular sovereignty that somehow adds up to a legitimate republic in New Zealand Aotearoha.

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  3. Generally speaking, debate over constitutional matters in Australia has been somewhat subdued in the last few days. This is partially out of respect, but I think there’s also a great deal of uncertainty about what Charles will be like as a monarch and whether he will retain the generally high public support that Elizabeth had. Although it’s a valid assumption that Charles is unlikely to be more popular than Elizabeth, it’s much too early imo to talk about domino effects.

    With regard to New Zealand, it’s probably true that the monarchy could be removed without a referendum. However, it would seem implausible for any government to not only remove the monarchy without a referendum, but to introduce a new republican (implied or otherwise) constitution without a referendum, given past precedent of the use of referendums for significant and divisive changes.

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    • Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese has said there will be no republic referendum for at least 3 years. More interestingly he’s said that the king should keep advocating on climate change.

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