At Midnight on November 30, Barbados became the world’s newest republic. Fifty-fife years after gaining independence from Britian, Queen Elizabeth II was removed as Head of State. Sandra Mason replaced her as the first elected President of Barbados. As the final salute was made to the British monarchy, and the Queen’s royal standard was lowered, Barbadians celebrated a new dawn in their nation’s history.

Many Britons share the excitement at this clear break from a colonial past. Many are also asking: ‘If Barbados can do it, why can’t we?’ And so the inevitable follow-up question resurfaces: Is it time for Britain to finally get rid of the monarchy, or will it cause more trouble than its worth?

Bad Press: Andrew and Meghan

The monarchy has been in the press a lot lately, and not for the right reasons. Prince Andrew has been under heavy scrutiny since 2011 for his relationship with billionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. A 2019 Newsnight interview was widely regarded as a car crash. Prince Andrew gallantly explained that the decision to continue his friendship with Epstein was entirely down to his ‘… tendency to be too honourable’.

The admission failed to register with the British public who instead saw the prince as pompous, out of touch, and even guilty. Epstein’s girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell’s ongoing trial may well reveal more information about Prince Andrew’s alleged involvement. He now faces legal proceedings himself, brought by Virginia Roberts Giuffre.

Giuffre claims that she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was 17 — accusations which the prince has strenuously denied. Regardless of the outcome of these proceedings, Prince Andrew and the Royal Family have had their name sullied.

The law works differently for royalty due to the 1947 Crown Proceedings Act. It protects members of the royal family from being arrested. This privilege could add another feather to the republican’s cap should evidence surface against the prince.

Yet another shadow over the Royal Family comes in the form of Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. Meghan, a young, charismatic, progressive woman of colour was seen by many as just the person to pull the monarchy into the 21st century. However, the rift between the Sussexes and the rest of the Royal Family revealed eye-opening facts about the British monarchy. In the now-famous Oprah interview, Meghan openly discussed how royal insiders had expressed ‘concerns’ about the skin colour of her unborn children. The Duchess described being isolated, alone, and experiencing suicidal thoughts. Similarities between her and Princess Diana, who also struggled to fit into the royal household, are uncannily clear.

Whether it’s friendships with billionaire sex trafickers or unacceptable views on race, it’s fair to say the Royal Family are not endearing themselves to the country at the moment. If it was an MP or a government that was behaving in this manner, we would have the chance to vote them out. Alas, with the royals we are denied this opportunity. And yet, they are the ones representing who we are as a country.

Hard Cash: The tourism defence

The most common response to criticism of the royals is financial. People might agree that in principle the monarchy is a rather outdated institution, but its capacity to bring in revenue from bedazzled tourists is undeniable. A record number of 3,285,000 people visited the official royal residences in the year before coronavirus struck. If tourism, The Royal Collection, The Crown Estate and merchandise are all considered, The House of Windsor is estimated to contribute a respectable £19 billion to the British economy. This is clearly not something to be spurned easily. However, it’s worth remembering that most of this income would persist even if we abolished the monarchy. After all, the French did it in 1792 and now nearly 10 million visitors a year come to admire the Palace of Versailles. If Britain became a republic, we would certainly preserve our rich history for posterity.

Show us the money

According to British Heritage, the Queen and her household cost the taxpayer £49.3m. The estimated total annual cost of the monarchy is £345m. Now, this is of course significantly less than what they ‘bring in’ to the economy. Except that they don’t — not really. The art, the gardens, the palaces and the jewels do instead. The millions of pounds currently being spent on the Queen and her staff could be spent on anything from hospitals to high-speed rail. As Republic state:

‘The monarchy is expensive, very expensive. Of course it wouldn’t matter if it were free — the cost to our democracy would still be too high — but when the palace tells you it’s “value-for-money”, don’t believe them. We could get much better for far less’.

The bigger picture

Finances and media coverage aside, we shouldn’t lose focus of the bigger picture. How is it that in 2021 we still have an unelected head of state who has vast power and wealth not due to any talent or democratic mandate, but by virtue of birth?

The monarchy is arguably the greatest symbol of Britain’s entrenched class system and the legacy of Empire and injustice. An elected Head of State, as found in any number of other ‘normal countries’ from Ireland to Germany, would surely be more democratic and fair. This new Head of State could be apolitical, as the Speaker of the House of Commons, and play the same unifying role as the Queen. However, they would be democratically accountable, and paid a regular wage.

It is true that a debate about the monarchy now could plunge the country into even greater division and constitutional crisis. But our current situation is increasingly unsustainable. We simply can’t kick the can down the road forever. Now could be the time for a grown up debate about the United Republic of Britian.

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