Saturday, July 14, 2012
03 Jun 2011
In another recent post one commenter was suggesting that the cost of becoming a republic would be astronomical because the state would lose the Crown Estate, the palaces and the royal art collection (among other things). This is an example of a common misconception about the relationship between the Windsors, the monarchy, the Crown, the state and the government. It’s a misconception fueled by the confusing way in which the government and the royal household describe the various property and ownership arrangements.
The Queen owns property in an official capacity and in a private capacity. Some things she owns as Queen Elizabeth, other things she owns as Elizabeth Windsor.
Property owned by Elizabeth Windsor is rightly hers and will remain so in a republic. Property owned by Queen Elizabeth would cease to be hers if she ceases to be Queen.
The Crown Estate is owned by the Queen ‘in right of the Crown’. In other words, in an official capacity. She no more owns the Crown Estate personally than David Cameron owns the flat above 10 Downing Street. If she ceases to be Queen she ceases to ‘own’ the Crown Estate.
The same is true of the royal palaces and the art collection. The same is also true, although in a slightly different way, of the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall. They are only the property of the Queen and the heir respectively so long as those individuals are Queen and heir.
The Crown is something else altogether. Contrary to the view of our recent commenter on this site, the Crown does not ‘belong’ to the Queen. It is an institution of state and it belongs to the nation. Since 1689 parliament has had complete authority over who the Crown passes to and how its powers will be exercised.
It is also worth pointing out that the government doesn’t own or have claim to the palaces, land or art collections anymore than the Windsors do. But the nation does, as I’ll explain in a moment. But we need to be clear that the government is a separate entity from the state and from parliament. It is parliament that has control over the Crown, not the government (putting aside for one moment government access to royal powers). This difference between parliament and government is often lost in this country because parliament is so often controlled by government, but it is still an important distinction to make.
So, parliament decides who the Crowned head of state is and whoever that person is ‘owns’ the property mentioned above only so long as they are in that official position. They have no personal claim to it were they to leave office.
So what happens if we abolish the monarchy? It’s quite simple: parliament declares the throne to be vacant and passes the Crown to the people. The people’s parliament then has complete authority to determine what to do with all its assets and property. The monarch who is removed from office has no claim to any of the property as it was never theirs in the first place. The nation keeps the palaces, the art, the jewels and the land. It’s legally, constitutionally and morally right.
Some people like to point out that the former King of Greece has pursued the Greek government in the courts over confiscated assets since his removal from power in the 1970s. I’d say two things about this: firstly Greek law and the Greek constitution are different to ours. In the UK the situation is reasonably clear, the property in question is the property of the Crown and parliament has complete authority over the Crown; secondly, do we really want to look up to people who feel such an overwhelming sense of entitlement as the King of Greece?
Putting the technical points to one side for a minute, the underlying message of the “it’s going to cost us millions/billions” argument is that we should allow ourselves to be held to ransom by one family. The question of republicanism is one of principle and democratic reform, if the people want that reform then there is a duty on the part of the Windsors to allow that reform to go ahead. To demand money and property that morally and practically belongs to the nation on the basis of a technicality would be in very bad taste. Particurly given their own personal fortunes that they can fall back on in their post-monarchy lives.
So let’s be absolutely clear: there would be no financial loss if we became a republic because the property belongs to the nation and would continue to do so.