What exactly is a republic? It’s often described as being a system of governance that replaces a monarchy. However, this ignores the character of the state calling itself a republic. After all, apartheid South Africa was a ‘republic’ despite its abhorrent system of values.

In truth, a republic is more than the mere absence of a monarch and more than a system of political governance. More properly, it is an ideology and a set of social and moral values. The word ‘republic’ comes from the Latin phrase res publica, meaning ‘public matter’ or ‘public affair,’ hence its close association with democracy. ‘Democracy’ comes from the Greek words demos meaning ‘the people’ and kratos which means power or control.

So, in effect, a republic is when the supreme power of a nation is held by the people and their elected representatives. By definition then, a republic is incompatible with a hereditary monarchy and its series of unelected officials.

Experimenting with a Republic

A common argument for keeping the monarchy is that it is central to British identity. The crown provides Britain with its prestige and sense of stability; qualities which help the country flex its soft power globally. However, as citizens, we must ask ourselves whether the legacy and identity of the British people should be that of mere subjects to a single family and whether the minor soft power enjoyed is worth our personal freedoms and right to be a fully-fledged democracy.

The case for a British republic was first displayed in earnest after the execution of King Charles I in 1649. The House of Commons passed An Act for Abolishing the Kingly Office on the grounds that experience had shown the office of Kind to be: ‘unnecessary, burthensom and dangerous to the liberty, safety and publique interest of the people’. It was also added that: ‘the Regal power and prerogative [had been used] to oppress, impoverish, and enslave the Subject.’ This led the House of Commons to conclude that ‘no one person whatsoever, shall or may have, or hold the Office, Style, Dignity, Power, or Authority of King’.

Yet, here we are, 374 years later having just witnessed another coronation. Despite the repeated assurances that a British monarch cannot rule with absolute power, that they are merely the embodiment of a symbolic and traditional institution, and that they reign in name only; this is a falsehood.

A Token Democracy

Under the British constitution — an unwritten system imposed on the people — sovereignty (power) is not invested in Parliament as most people think. Nor is it held by the British people. Rather, it rests with the monarchy. Through the constitutional device of the Crown in Parliament, the monarch is effectively ‘lending its power’ to parliamentary representatives. This is why the Prime Minister still has to ask the King, hat-in-hand, to dissolve Parliament and call a general election. And this is what makes the British democracy a sham. Ours is a token democracy.

The crown’s prerogative enables the government to wage war, sign international treaties without consulting Parliament, impose legislature, appoint top judges, civil servants and royal commissions, and create new unelected peers in the anti-democratic House of Lords.

In fact, according to Parliament, ‘there is no definitive list of prerogative powers.’ Effectively, we have a system of governance in this country where the government has a flexible remit to do anything it wants, without having to consult the people.

The ruling monarch is also exempt from over 160 British laws, including anti-discrimination laws enshrined in the Equality Act 2010 and workers’ rights outlined in the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. There are also tax exemptions, environmental degradation immunity, and 31 laws that ban the police from entering the Windsor’s private property without obtaining permission first.

Critically, the monarch is exempt from criminal and civil proceedings under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Quite literally, the law does not apply to the Royal Family — something that neither the UK Government nor Buckingham Palace sees fit to explain.

One recent example of sovereign immunity to British law is Regulation 8 of the 2020 Coronavirus Health Protection Regulations. These are the regulations that prohibited the British public from using outside spaces during the pandemic but exempted the Windsor family from the same restrictions. While the people were harassed with fines for going outside and sitting on park benches, the Royals were legally allowed these ‘privileges’. Instead of being a symbol of stability and security, the monarchy’s exemptions from the law utterly undermine the British public’s values of democracy, equality and sense of fair play.

A Squeez on Freedom

The case for a republic has become more relevant in light of the Public Order Bill receiving royal assent days before the coronation. The right of the people to protest has been further diminished following the already debilitating Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act of 2022. This is despite warnings from the UN Human Rights High Commissioner that the: ‘deeply troubling legislation is not compatible with the UK’s international human rights obligations regarding people’s rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.’

Predictably, the Metropolitan Police then conducted numerous heavy-handed arrests on the morning of the coronation — these included republican protestors with placards and women’s safety volunteers from Westminster Council handing out rape alarms. All this was undertaken to prevent a possible disruption that hadn’t even yet occurred. If this does not amount to being arrested for thoughtcrime, then what does? Meanwhile, the King stayed silent as the people’s right to protest was violently snatched away.

To understand the need for a republic, we need to appreciate the current political and social climate. There is the cost-of-living crisis to deal with, a post-pandemic economy, 11 years of Tory austerity resulting in more than half a trillion pounds of public spending being lost, and the unabating waves of strikes across the country due to plummeting real wages and rising inflation. All this has battered the British people.

When everything is taken into account, the idea of reciting the Homage of the People while watching a gold-adorned millionaire be sworn into an office he wasn’t elected into, seems rather ludicrous in the context of the twenty-first century — don’t you think?

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