What is a constitutional monarchy?

LONDON – A theme that was at the heart of King Charles III’s speech to the British Parliament on Monday, and, many experts would say, in most of his public statements and actions since the Queen Elizabeth died: in favor of Britain’s constitutional monarchy.

He concluded his speech by reiterating his mother’s promise to “uphold the precious principles of the constitutional government at the heart of our nation” and by vowing to follow her example.

For some foreign observers, that has raised the question: How can you have a constitutional monarchy when you don’t have a written Constitution?

Although Britain does not have a constitutional document like the one ratified by the United States in 1788 – or which was rejected by Chilean voters earlier this month – Britain still has well-documented laws and traditions. together form a Constitution, a document binding the king. .

These rules have been accumulated over centuries of legislation and a large body of surrounding conventions. (An explanation of England’s constitutional monarchy provided by the Library of the House of Lords begins with Magna Carta in 1215, and the initial restrictions on royal power, and continues despite a The thick of legislation dates back to 1701, when Parliament intervened in the royal succession.)

Together, they make the king a constitutional monarch: the embodiment of power and statehood with no individual public role in politics, and tight ties even to the influence of private.

Charles acknowledged those conventions to legislators by beginning by praising “important parliamentary traditions”, associating them with the medieval wooden roof of Westminster Hall, the parliament building he built. spoke.

The constitutional tradition has met with some tension in Parliament in recent years, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson seeks to pass his bill on leaving the European Union. Once using executive power, Parliament suspended it for a week, drawing criticism from Britain’s Supreme Court.

“Our constitution is fundamentally dependent on British sentiments of politeness and fairness, and it assumes that those in high positions will respect conventions, precedents and failed rules. literature,” Professor Meg Russell, Director of the Constitutional Unit at University College London, told The Time in 2019.

In contrast, the queen maintains the monarchy’s popularity in part by what her son described to lawmakers on Monday as “unsurpassed devotion” to the tradition of restraint.

It’s one reason Charles raised eyebrows during his long decades as Prince of Wales. He openly advocates for what may seem like a set of innocuous causes: the environment, organic farming, complementary medicine, traditional architecture. He addressed the issue in his first speech as monarch last week, saying: “I will no longer be able to devote much of my time and energy to charities and other matters. which I am very interested in.”

He would leave all of that, he said, “in the trusted hands of someone else.” After his mother’s example, that may be what the British Constitution requires.

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