Who should be the next king? How could Britain become a republic? Constitutional historian Vernon Bogdanor explains the rulesby Vernon Bogdanor / March 23, 2011 / Leave a comment
1. If the Queen wished to step down, could she?
It would require an act of parliament, but the Queen is also sovereign of 15 other Commonwealth monarchies (see box p32), and any change requires the consent of all of these countries too. In Canada, this would involve the consent of every province including Quebec, and would raise anew the separatism issue. Australia would require a referendum. The law of succession has been changed only once in recent times, by the abdication in 1936. That was so traumatic it is unlikely to be repeated. A Regency, however, is possible: were the Queen to become too infirm to carry out her duties, the Regency Acts allow the Prince of Wales to become Regent.
2. Is it possible for the succession to bypass Charles?
A break in the succession is as unlikely as an abdication. Parliament could, in theory, prevent an individual from inheriting the throne. But it has never yet happened, and would be highly undesirable: the current Prince of Wales is probably better prepared for the throne than any previous heir. He has pioneered a welfare monarchy: establishing strong links with minorities such as Afro-Caribbeans and Muslims, while the Prince’s Trust has helped many young people to find jobs.
3. What is the procedure for overturning the Act of Settlement (which, among other things, bans the monarch from marrying a Catholic)? And would it be possible to separate church and state?
Issues concerning the state and religion are for the government of the day to decide, not the Queen. A government could legislate to amend the Act of Settlement or to disestablish the Church of England.
4. How could the Commonwealth monarchies depose the Queen as their head of state? And what is the procedure for Britain itself to become a republic?
Commonwealth monarchies would need to act in accordance with their own constitutional procedures. Britain could become a republic by act of parliament, likely following an election pledge. A referendum might also be called, though it is not required by law. The Duke of Edinburgh has declared that the monarchy exists only so long as the people want it to; the Queen also indicated at the time of the Australian referendum in 1999 that she wanted to remain Queen of that country only so long as Australians wished.
But polls over the last 20 years have shown such a…