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Tags: elizabeth | decision | prime minister | johnson

Engage the Queen to Clean Up Brexit Mess

uk prime minister boris johnson with queen elizabeth ii of britain
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II welcomes then-newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson, at Buckingham Palace, London, Weds. July 24, 2019. (Victoria Jones/Pool via AP)

Paul F. deLespinasse By Wednesday, 11 September 2019 11:12 AM EDT Current | Bio | Archive

The current political situation in the U.K. appears to be progressing from a crisis to a disaster. The elected political leaders have managed to make such a royal mess of Brexit — withdrawing from the European Union — that it may take a royal decision (an actual decision by Queen Elizabeth II) to clean up that mess and restore orderly democratic government.

Perhaps some friendly advice from someone who views the current U.K. situation with the perspective allowed by distance will be received in the spirit in which it is given.

I think I'm in a strong position to give such advice.

My doctoral dissertation in political science, completed at Johns Hopkins University 53 years ago, analyzed the role of the monarch in six European constitutional monarchies including the United Kingdom.

As a student of constitutional monarchy, I am well aware of the convention that the Queen reigns but does not rule and does not take sides in political issues. But that is not the only convention underlying political life in the UK.

There is also the assumption that the legitimacy of the prime minister and the cabinet rests on their support by a majority of the House of Commons.

A recent decision by Prime Minister Boris Johnson is a clear violation of this tradition.

He has shut down the House of Commons for five weeks, trying to prevent it from stopping a no-deal Brexit.

One major violation of constitutional tradition suggests that another violation in order to mitigate its effects could be justified. Personal decisions by constitutional monarchs, though rare in recent history, have occasionally happened.

During World War II King Haakon VII of Norway threatened to abdicate if his cabinet agreed to German demands that he appoint Vidkun Quisling as prime minister.

They didn't. (This is the subject of a fascinating recent film, "The King's Choice.")

King Gustav V of Sweden convinced his ministers to allow German troops to be transported through his neutral country by a similar threat to abdicate, perhaps out of fear that if Sweden rejected the demand Germany would invade.

There are several things that the Queen could take do to clean up the current mess.

She could cancel Brexit but pledge not to interfere if, after new elections, the government renews the process. She could decree that Brexit will occur only if it is supported by a second referendum.

She could cancel her previous decision to rubberstamp Johnson's decision to keep the House of Commons from meeting for five of the weeks prior to October 31.

She could do all sorts of other things, too, since there are customary limits on what the monarch can do but few legal limits.

Under the circumstances, direct action by the Queen could not reasonably be described as antidemocratic. Boris Johnson was not installed after a general election, He was chosen by a tiny minority of Conservative Party activists. His majority in the House of Commons is gone.

He is trying to prevent Parliament from controlling his actions. Prime Minister Johnson would be in no position to complain that the Queen is undermining democracy.

Additionally, the whole idea that Brexit must happen because it was supported by a majority in one referendum assumes that the electorate, uniquely, is unable to change its collective mind. Everyone else, parliaments, courts, prime ministers, can change their minds, but the electorate, never?!

And since the voters have had several years to understand what the consequences of Brexit will be, they might very well have changed their minds.

A second referendum would hardly constitute an undermining of democracy.

There is no such thing as a political system that cannot be gamed, though some are more game-able than others. The United States supposedly has an advantage over the UK in that we have a written Constitution. However the Supreme Court decides what the Constitution means.

If a political party can pack the Court with enough of its hacks, then the Court will not stand in the way of any outrages that party might inflict if it controls the White House and the Congress. The actual advantage here may lie with the UK, since it is impossible for the political leaders to "pack" the royal palace.

Queen Elizabeth II has observed all of the constitutional customs during her two-thirds of a century on the throne. And until now, so have the elected politicians. Now that the politicians have brought on the current crisis by ignoring their side of the deal, it is time for the Queen to save the country by putting those politicians back in their proper roles.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Queen Elizabeth II observed all constitutional customs during her two-thirds of a century on the throne. Until now, so have the elected politicians. Now that the politicians have brought on the current crisis by ignoring their side of the deal, it's time for Elizabeth II to save the country.
elizabeth, decision, prime minister, johnson
Wednesday, 11 September 2019 11:12 AM
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