LAYING SIEGE TO THE QUEEN – Should Brown leave the Queen alone?
MEMBERS of Parliament will no longer have to swear allegiance to the Queen under constitutional reforms put forward by one of Gordon Brown’s closest advisers.
The blueprint, produced by the Prime Minister’s special adviser Michael Jacobs, would also turn the British into “citizens,” rather than “subjects,” and could even spell the end for
Downing Street last night distanced itself from the controversial ideas, saying there were no plans to adopt them. A spokesman said Mr Jacobs advised the Prime Minister on environmental issues rather than constitutional affairs.
But critics pointed out that Mr Brown had already moved quickly to adopt key parts of the Jacobs plan, including ending the Royal Prerogative and having the Government’s programme laid out by the Prime Minister in the Commons rather than the Queen at the annual state opening of Parliament.
Royal sources said the Queen was already alarmed by the pace of change under the Brown regime.
Royal historian Kenneth Rose, a close friend of the late Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, said there was “a constant pushing of the boundaries of what the Government does and what it deems the Queen doesn’t need to do”.
He added: “All these things treat the Queen with a certain disrespect. It’s offensive to the Queen and it’s intended to be so. She’ll be furious.”
Mr Rose said the changes would also cause the Queen to fear for the future of the Royal Family. “She realises that people will say ‘If the Queen has no constitutional duties, why should she have constitutional privileges?’”
Tory MP Mark Pritchard said there were growing signs of “creeping republicanism” within the Brown Government.
He added: “Aided and abetted by the institutional anti-Britishness and republicanism within the BBC, it appears that at the very heart of Government there is an agenda to downgrade the monarchy to the point where the Queen becomes a bicycling monarch and a tourism trophy, rather than an esteemed and respected head of state.”
Within days of taking office, Mr Brown unveiled far-reaching changes to the constitution, including ending the Royal Prerogative, which gives Prime Ministers, acting on behalf of the Queen, sweeping powers to declare war, sign treaties and dissolve Parliament.
This week he effectively sidelined the Queen’s Speech by announcing the Government’s programme for the next Parliament himself, four months before the state opening. The Prime Minister has also launched a consultation on a “statement of British values” which could eventually lead to a written constitution.
The consultation will be led by Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who is on record as being in favour of a slimmed-down, Scandinavian-style monarchy.
Mr Brown has given little indication of what a written constitution might include but Mr Jacobs, who has been employed by Mr Brown as a special adviser for more than three years, has already outlined one possible scenario downgrading the monarchy. Writing during his time as head of the Left-wing think tank the Fabian Society, he said:
“The modern role of head of state needs to be separated from the historical powers of the monarch.
“In doing this, the constitution can be properly democratised. A written constitution, guaranteeing basic rights and freedoms, would make the British people citizens, not subjects.
“Allegiance to the constitution would then replace the oath of allegiance in Parliament. The Queen’s Speech would be replaced by the Government’s programme, announced in the Commons, not the Lords. The Speaker of the House of Commons could take over the monarch’s power to adjudicate in the event of unclear general election results and to assent formally to legislation.
“Prerogative powers should pass to ministers in Parliament. There could even be a new national anthem.
“Once this is done, it becomes easier to split the remaining personal and public aspects of monarchy.
“New arrangements can be made over issues such as the status of royal property, the state funding of the Royal Family and taxes they pay.
“Anomalies such as the prohibition of Catholics and gender preference in succession can be removed. And it would enable a fundamental examination of the relationship between the Anglican church, the state and the monarch.”
Mr Jacobs, who claimed the changes would strengthen the monarchy in the long term, is one of the new Prime Minister’s closest advisers.
He is widely credited with persuading Mr Brown to put a penny on National Insurance to fund NHS expansion after the 2001 election.
Downing Street last night insisted there were no plans to adopt his ideas on the monarchy. A spokesman said: “Mr Jacobs is an adviser on environmental policy not the constitution.
“Whatever ideas he advanced in a previous job several years ago have no bearing on the Government’s current thinking, nor will they.”
However, royal experts said the moves would add to a growing sense of siege at Buckingham Palace.
Mr Rose said another example of the Government showing disrespect towards the Queen is Gordon Brown’s refusal to pay for repairs to her palaces. Last month it was revealed that they are “crumbling” through lack of funds.
Ministers are refusing to stump up extra cash, even though the Crown Estates made more than £200million profit for the Treasury. Ministers have also drawn up secret plans to downgrade the Privy Council, a key point of contact between monarch and Government.
Mr Rose said the Queen will be in an added quandary because the only person with whom she can discuss Brown’s proposals, her private secretary Sir Robin Janvrin, is about to retire. “This has all come at a difficult time for her.”
Royal author Christopher Wilson said: “The Queen has been horribly upstaged. On the one hand Gordon Brown is perfectly justified in what he is doing but, on the other, the Queen will not like the rug being pulled from under her.” Mr Brown is thought to have used his first Prime Ministerial meeting with the Queen to brief her on some of his constitutional plans. On the day of his appointment he spent almost an hour with her – twice that spent by Tony Blair in his first meeting.
Constitutional expert Lord St John of Fawsley said Mr Brown had been “very courteous”. He added: “He did explain to her what he was trying to do. She is cool. She can see the need for change but it takes her time. She is a cautious person.
“If you wanted to sum up her attitude, it would be, ‘Why can’t you leave well alone?’ but that’s not the motto of this Government.”
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