The Royal Prerogative : will Gordon give up the power?

According to Mary Riddell in The Observer Gordon Brown is thinking of transferring to parliament some or all of the powers currently exercised under the Royal Prerogative:

The reform programme he is hatching will give some prerogative powers of the head of state to Parliament standing above government and the crown. The monarch will be effectively demoted; Brown will be abolishing the divine right of kings.

This is a misunderstanding of royal prerogative powers. They are exercised by the monarch in name only; in practice the royal prerogative gives immense powers to the Prime Minister, whose advice the queen is obliged to accept (other than on a very narrow set of issues). Far from abolishing the divine right of kings, he would be abolishing the unaccountable (and internationally unrivalled) power of the British Prime Minister.

The briefings in the papers today are mainly about the power to declare war. But as I pointed out back in August last year, there are many other powers exercised by the Prime Minister under these powers, with no parliamentary oversight or control, which ought to be transferred to parliament, such as making appointments, granting honors, declaring a state of emergency, signing treaties, issuing passports, deporting foreigners and creating universities.

I predicted last summer that Mr Brown might change this early on if he becomes Prime Minister – but I think it is only likely if he does so right away. Once Prime Ministers grow comfortable exercising these powers, they tend not to be inclined to give them up.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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1 Comment

  1. No-one ever mentions the two sweeping and potentially controversial royal prerogative powers still exercised personally by the monarch, not by the prime minister and not necessarily on the advice of the monarch’s prime minister or other ministers:  the power to refuse a dissolution of parliament requested by a prime minister, and the power to choose whom to invite to try to form a government, highly relevant in the event of a hung parliament.  These are powers that obviously ought to be transferred to some independent body before the crown, perhaps adorning the head of the current heir to the throne when the situation next arises, is dragged into deeply damaging political controversy.  It wouldn’t be excessively difficult to set up a body, perhaps chaired by the Speaker of the House of Commons and including the Presiding Officer of the second chamber, the monarch’s principal private secretary, the Lord Chief Justice and the Secretary to the Cabinet, to make such decisions and to report the reasons for them to parliament, acting under guidelines embodied in statute law. But no-one seems to be prepared to grasp this nettle, for fear of being maliciously misrepresented by the tabloids as trying to strip the Queen of her few remaining ‘rights’.  (I’m pretty sure she would be extremely happy to be relieved of them.)  

    Will Gordon Brown tackle these along with the other prerogative powers?  Don’t bet the farm on it!  &nbsp

    Brian &nbsp

    http://www.barder.com/ephems/

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