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  • Lawrence Bailey

Does it matter who rules Britannia?

You may have noticed how the media are quite fond of using the term “constitutional crisis” to describe some political impasse or other.

The truth is that such instances are historically few on the ground. When they do happen however, a bit of blood tends to be spilled in the process.

Before I take that cheerful thought further, let me share with you a memory from 1977 when a royal motorcade transporting HM Queen Elizabeth II processed sedately along Fabian Way on its way from Swansea to Neath.

As a young man barely out of apprenticeship, I was stuck by the way the workforce assembled at the gates of the old Ford plant broke into spontaneous applause as it passed.

More amazing was how hardened trade unionists dedicated to fighting the class struggle visibly melted as a diminutive lady waved at them from the window of a passing limo.

My reason for mentioning this recollection is because it came to me during a recent roundtable discussion on the future disposition of what we now call the “devolved nations”.

The majority opinion among the contributors was that the ongoing drive towards independence logically means republicanism. I’m not entirely convinced about that.

Should the days of social distancing ever disappear, I can guarantee that few events would draw the crowds more quickly or effectively than a royal visit. I’ll admit however that I’ve no idea if that would make the monarchy a cohesive force in the face of a separatist groundswell.

Heavy stuff for a Thursday, I grant you, but when politicians talk glibly about “reform” I get twitchy. That’s because, as with the laws of motion, things like self-determination can have an equal and opposite effect – as happened with Brexit and freedom of movement.

Boris Johnson appears to have set his face against further devolution but is typically unclear as to whether he can – or should – put the process into reverse gear.

Even so, before we decide if the United Kingdom remains a sustainable proposition, there’s an argument that says we should first put as much effort into restoring the freedoms we’ve steadily forgone during lockdown.

What I’m saying is that although we might shake our heads at the apparent fragility of democratic safeguards in the US, our own so-called Bill of Rights is a dead sketchy affair dating back to the 1600s and which basically does little more than preclude Catholics from the royal succession.

Ironically. the government have come up with the wheeze of rebranding the UK Human Rights Act as a new Bill of Rights while quietly slipping in a proposal that would enable MPs to oversee appointments to the Supreme Court.

It may not seem like a constitutional crisis at first sight but it’s an action that substantially weakens our entitlement as citizens to a fully independent judiciary.

Wherever we reside among the four nations, we largely value the monarchy. It will probably take a lot before that changes. Sadly though, we sometimes seem less attached to the democratic freedoms secured for us over the generations.

Nonetheless, while Britannia may not last out the decade, that doesn’t mean that our rights can be allowed to go the same way.




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