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For the monarchy to survive, Charles III must follow Elizabeth II’s ‘non-interventionist’ rulebook

10 Sep 2022 5 minute read
King Charles III. Picture by Victoria Jones / PA Wire.

Stephen Clear, Lecturer in Constitutional and Administrative Law, and Public Procurement, Bangor University

The sad news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II marks the beginning of the reign of King Charles III. The transition period has already seen questions raised about whether we can expect the new king to be “interventionist”.

These concerns are based on several incidents over the years. As Prince of Wales, Charles was outspoken on political issues and was found to have been lobbying ministers on issues of his own personal interest. More recently, concerns were raised about a cash donation the former prime minister of Qatar made to the Prince’s charities.

However, the reality of the new king’s reign is set to be very different and a lot less controversial. Here’s why:

The role of a constitutional monarchy

While King Charles III is now head of state, that state remains a constitutional monarchy. That means the ability to make and pass legislation resides with the elected parliament alone. Since the reign of King John and the 1215 signing of Magna Carta, the UK has had a system of monarchy limited by law. The monarch does have to give “royal assent” to a bill before it can become law but these days that is considered a formality, and a custom, rather than a process involving any real input from the monarch.

For the system to survive, the king must be an uncontroversial figure, and remain politically neutral. History tells us what happens when a monarch tries to wield too much arbitrary power. For example, the tension between the Crown and its subjects was seen when King Charles I entered Parliament in 1642 to arrest parliamentarians for treason. Revolution followed and, for a short period, the UK became a republic.

The Crown was restored in 1660 with King Charles II. But the Bill of Rights passed in 1689, coupled with the the 1611 Case of Proclamation that states a king cannot make law without the consent of Parliament, forces the Crown to accept the will of the democratically elected parliament of the day.

Practically speaking, the new king is acutely aware of the change that he must now make. Constitutional conventions that did not apply to him when he was a prince must now guide his every action as king. When it comes to political meddling the King has made it clear that he knows his approach must now be different. During his 70th birthday interview in 2018 he said:

“I’m not that stupid. I do realise that it is a separate exercise being sovereign. So, of course I understand entirely how that should operate. The idea somehow that I’m going to go on exactly the same way, if I have to succeed, is complete nonsense. Because the two situations are completely different.”

For the monarchy to survive, it must continue to respect the constitutional rules. It is the start of a new era, but one that will largely follow the “rulebook” that governed Queen Elizabeth II’s reign.

What might change?

The King is understood to want a slimmed down official royal family and there is anticipation that role changes are imminent to fit in with 21st century expectations about how much the public should have to pay to maintain the royals.

In relation to the Commonwealth realms, we might expect Charles to be more conscious of societal changes. As Prince of Wales he commented at the Commonwealth’s Heads of Government meeting in Kagali how the legacy of slavery needed to be confronted, stating:

I cannot describe the depths of my personal sorrow at the suffering of so many, as I continue to deepen my own understanding of slavery’s enduring impact.

Similarly, Prince William acknowledged, on a visit to Jamaica that the “appalling atrocity of slavery stains our history”. During the visit, he similarly acknowledged individual Commonwealth states’ right to independently choose their own path, separate to associations with the royal family if they should so decide. That will be remembered now as the passing of the Queen is likely to reignite debate surrounding whether some jurisdictions want to continue their association with the royal family.

While further state departures from the Commonwealth are an inevitability, these manoeuvres signal that we might see more attempts to try and modernise, reflect a generation change, and make the monarchy appear more progressive and in touch – ultimately for its longer-term relevance and survival.

The challenges ahead

The most daunting challenge the new king will face will be maintaining continuity. Many British and Commonwealth citizens have never known a world without Queen Elizabeth II.

For many, she was the thread that kept the UK union together. Such was her popularity that even the Scottish National Party recognised that the Queen would have to continue to be the head of state for a hypothetical independent Scotland. The King now faces the task of continuing to be that uniting force.

Throughout her 70-year reign, the UK has became accustomed to HM Queen Elizabeth II being the one who speaks for the country during times of celebration, and in times of loss and grief. The King will have the added challenge of connecting with the national psyche, in being the replacement to the Queen’s constant and reassuring presence at the centre of national life.

Stephen Clear does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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1 year ago

Given the speed to announce William as Prince of Wales and avoid a prolonged public debate over ‘The Prince of Wales’ and it’s history, it seem hardly likely that Charles is to be an non interventional Monarch, and most likely his memory of 69 has manifested in ‘payback’ , We must remember that the British Monarchy is a self serving financial machine and will only serve it’s own interest, This is not a ‘disney’ Royal Family with happy endings and any pretension that they serve a purpose in the 21st century is deluded thinking. There can be no independence for… Read more »

Richard 1
Richard 1
1 year ago
Reply to  Owain

I totally agree the political analysis but, FF’sS, the possessive pronoun “its” has no apostophe. “It’s” = “it is”, which is not what you mean. (For clarity, the apostrophe in “FF’sS” denotes the genitive or possessive case of the noun “F***”)

Evan Aled Bayton
Evan Aled Bayton
1 year ago

There was no UK in the civil war period. England became a republic. Scotland remained an independent country eventually coming to terms with Cromwell. Ireland was reconquered by military force and became established as a colonial possession of England with a degree of ethnic cleansing and suppression of the inhabitants who were dispossessed of their lands. Some of the Irish were effectively enslaved and sent to colonies notably preceding black slaves as forced labour on Jamaica for example.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
1 year ago

Today Charles during his proclamation as King signed a document promising to respect the independence of the Protestant Church of Scotland, but want he didn’t say is that he would be neutral during any Scottish independence referendum. He will interfere. It’s in his nature. Bit like Andrew, and less said about him the better.

Last edited 1 year ago by Y Cymro
1 year ago

Support independence for Cymru. We could have sovereignty and appropriately remain a part of the Commonwealth.

1 year ago

QE2 was a classy person and act which is nigh impossible to follow.
H.M.Charles 3 could begin with appointing William “Royal Ambassador to Wales”, which may be acceptable, and even popular, leading to our Commonwealth membership.

Last edited 1 year ago by I.Humphrys

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