POLITICS

Awaiting The Crown, Charles Faces 'Unprecedented' Challenge At Home And Abroad

Charles, Prince of Wales, will face a tumultuous rise to the throne upon the death of his mother, the Queen, as public opinion in Britain and across the Commonwealth remains divided on his future reign.

14/11/2017 3:49 AM IST
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The Queen is greeted by Prince Charles in June this year. Mirroring her record-breaking reign, Charles has become the longest-serving heir apparent.

When you speak to Royal observers, two portrayals of Britain’s future monarch emerge. The first is of Charles the convenor, tactfully using his power to draw together divided minds and encourage consensus. The second is that of Charles the activist, driving change and declaring his views, challenging constitutional orthodoxy.

It is perhaps the latter which goes further in explaining events at court this summer. With little international fanfare, a series of fundamental changes to the workings of the house of Windsor have, commentators and former aides say, confirmed a slow but steady process of transition.

It began in May, with the decision of the Queen’s husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to step down from daily Royal duties and, as the longest-serving consort in history, enjoy more free time as he approaches his 96th year.

Then, in July, the Queen’s most senior aide, Sir Christopher Geidt, stepped aside unexpectedly, reportedly at the behest of Charles.

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The Rt. Hon. Sir Christopher Geidt was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 2014 by his then boss, Queen Elizabeth II.

The move shocked even the most seasoned court correspondents, not least because Geidt, 56, had spent a decade in the job preparing the “bridge” between the Queen’s household and the Prince of Wales’ operation.

Reports suggested Geidt’s “unprecedented ousting” was the climax of anxiety among Charles’ staff about the heir taking on more high-profile duties. 

And last month, news came that Charles will deliver the Monarch’s official wreath at the Remembrance Sunday ceremony in central London for Britain’s war dead. The move has all but confirmed a steady transferal of duties is underway.

Little wonder, then, that talk of a sort of subtle regency, whereby the heir to the throne gradually takes on the more physically demanding tasks of an ageing monarch, such as long periods standing at the Cenotaph, has grown louder.

“As the Queen gets older there are certain things she might feel Prince Charles could do,” Dickie Arbiter, the Queen’s former press secretary tells HuffPost.

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In Britain, Charles has long been portrayed as a restless heir apparent, frustrated by the constraints of his role, with a keen eye trained on the top job.

“Why doesn’t she abdicate?” he’s said to have asked friends in frustration 20 years ago.

But the Queen this year marked a record-breaking 65 years as monarch. In April, she celebrated her 91st birthday. At 68, Charles is now said to be conscious that he himself is entering his autumnal years.

Yet no matter his age when the moment comes, experts believe the Prince of Wales’ ascendancy to the crown will be tumultuous.

Rising republican sentiment, faltering public opinion, and a sense that subjects in Britain and across the Commonwealth remain divided on Charles’ future reign all threaten the future of the monarchy. 

At home in the UK, surveys find people prefer the ascendancy to pass over Charles completely to the benefit of his son, William, Duke of Cambridge.

A poll for The Sun newspaper found 51 per cent of those surveyed wanted the crown to pass straight to Wills.

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Prince Charles and his son William, Duke of Cambridge, seen in 1998. That same year, Charles is said to have questioned his mother's longevity as monarch.

And in a further affront to his future reign, a poll for the Daily Express found many Brits said they wanted Charles’ wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, to be princess consort, not queen. A demotion in the eyes of many - it would unprecedented for the spouse of a King and, insiders say, simply unconscionable for Charles.

Royal commentators suggest recent opinion polls are untrustworthy, and merely reflect the nation’s mood surrounding the twentieth anniversary of the death of Charles’ first wife Diana, Princess of Wales, in August.

“The passing over of the Crown cannot happen. William is popular as is Harry, because they appeal to a younger generation,” Arbiter adds. “Opinion polls are all about taking a sample of whom you want a response from and it is the question you ask. I don’t believe opinion polls - to sample 2,000 out of 64 million is just nonsense.”

While their importance may well be disputed, the polls illustrate the challenges Britain’s future monarch faces at home.

But elsewhere in the Commonwealth, Charles’ path to the throne seems unlikely to run smoother.

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The elevation of Charles following the reign of Queen Elizabeth II will likely spur on the push for a republic in Australia, despite the nation rejecting a proposal for a local head of state at a referendum almost 20 years ago.

Since the republican movement’s bruising 54.9 percent defeat at that referendum in 1999, there’s been a general consensus that love for the Queen, as well as a lack of certainty about the method for picking a head of state, handicapped the historic push at the starting gate.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a believer in a republic but won’t campaign for it.

The one-time leader of Australia’s Republican Movement (ARM) declared that Australian republicans were “Elizabethan” shortly before he met Her Majesty in July this year— a position he has expressed since at least 2008, almost a decade after the referendum defeat.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten responded to Turnbull’s June statement by placing a Republic firmly back on the Labor agenda.

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Malcolm Turnbull shakes Queen Elizabeth II's hand during an audience at Buckingham Palace this July.

“We are not Elizabethan, we are Australians. Our head of state should be an Australian too,” Shorten said, vowing to put forward a straightforward yes or no question on an Australian head of state in the first term of a future Labor government.

The idea of an Australian Republic is older than Federation, although it was given renewed force as an idea in 1991 when it first became official Labor Party policy.

Former Prime Minister Paul Keating — once labeled ‘The Lizard of Oz’ after he put his hand on the Queen during a state visit — told parliament in 1995 that a Republic would be the “answer beyond doubt the perennial question of Australian identity – the question of who we are and what we stand for.”

“The answer is not what having a foreign Head of State suggests. We are not a political or cultural appendage to another country’s past. We are simply and unambiguously Australian,” he said, noting later in the speech that Australia’s position in the Commonwealth would not be affected.

Still a true believer, the former prime minister reportedly remarked in 2015 that he thought it was “deeply sick” that Australians were waiting for Charles to inherit the throne.

Four years on from that 1995 speech, and Australians were ready to answer the Republic question with a ‘no’ — a decision that lead Turnbull to declare then conservative Prime Minister and opponent of republicanism, John Howard, had “broken this nation’s heart” with the referendum’s failure.

The defeat had come as a surprise to some.

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William and Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, embarked upon a high-profile visit to Australia with Prince George in 2014.

While opinion polls since 1993 generally found the majority favours the country becoming a republic, the 1999 vote was defeated in large part because the electorate was suspicious of the model on offer: an Australian president appointed by parliament, instead of elected directly by the people.

More recent polls offer other perspectives. A paper in the Australian Journal of Political Science in 2015 found support for the scandal-plagued monarchy fell sharply in the 1990s.

But attitudes recovered after 1999, culminating in Prince William and Catherine’s wedding in 2011, as well as the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte in 2013 and 2015.

Comparatively, a poll of 1,008 people conducted by ARM in 2015 reportedly showed 51 per cent of respondents wanted an Australian head of state to replace King Charles when he succeeds his mother.

A poll in December last year by the Australian National University showed 53 percent of Australians support having their own head of state. A poll by another company, Newspoll, in December the previous year, put that figure at 51 percent.

The Role Of The Queen In Australia

- When the Queen visits Australia, she speaks and acts as Queen of Australia and not as Queen of the United Kingdom.
- As a constitutional monarch, the Queen acts entirely on the advice of Australian Government Ministers who are responsible to Parliament.
- The Queen is represented in Australia at the federal level by a Governor-General, who is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia and is completely independent of the British Government.

While Malcolm Turnbull is reluctant to campaign for a republic, he has expressed similar views on tactics.

“It’s about broadening reach, it’s about patience and endurance and mutual respect,” Turnbull told an ARM function in at Sydney University last year.

“House by house, street by street, suburb by suburb, we must make the case to our fellow citizens.”

Under the leadership of prominent republican, popular historian and journalist Peter FitzSimons, the ARM is aiming to have a referendum on a republic by 2022, following extensive public consultation on a new Australian head of state.

If Labor wins the next election, that plan is looking more likely to be carried out.

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New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has made no secret of her desire to ditch the monarchy, but has tempered her stance - for now.

“I am a republican but you will find there are people in New Zealand who aren’t actively pursuing that change,” the 37-year-old Labour leader told The Times. “It’s certainly not about my view of the monarchy but my view of New Zealand’s place in the world and carving out our own future. So that is what drives my sentiment.”

Opinion polls conducted last year appeared to show a groundswell in republicanism among New Zealanders.

Nearly 60 per cent of Kiwi’s surveyed said they would prefer a homegrown head of state in future, with just 34 per cent favouring Charles as King of New Zealand.

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New Zealand's new PM Jacinda Ardern has made no secret of her desire to ditch the monarchy.

Though monarchists say that 2016 poll, carried out by Curia research on behalf of New Zealand Republic, used flawed logic to draw its headline result, Stuff.co.nz reports.

The position of Ardern, who became PM after a coalition deal with the liberal New Zealand First party, will be of concern to Charles’ staff at Clarence House, especially her suggestion that sentiment is tied to the Queen, not the Crown.

“No matter when you have the conversation [about getting rid of the monarchy] there’s a knock-on effect, there’s a much-loved monarch who will be affected by that decision,” Ardern said.

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Charles awaits the throne at a time when more than half of Canadians reject the notion of the monarchy’s formal role in the nation’s affairs and cast Royals as little more than celebrities.

The most recent Ipsos poll conducted with regards to Canadian attitudes about the monarchy for Global News found that 61 percent felt “the Queen and the Royal Family should not have any formal role in Canadian society, the royals are simply celebrities and nothing more.”

In terms of abdication, 53 percent felt the Queen should abdicate and let the next person in line have the throne, while a full 50 per cent agreed that when the Queen ends her reign, Canada should cut its ties to the monarchy.

That said, 63 percent of respondents felt that the nation’s history as a British colony and our membership in the Commonwealth was important. 

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Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, sit alongside Canadian PM Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie in Ottawa during their visit to the country this year.

If the Queen were to abdicate the throne, a prospect currently said to be unthinkable among Palace insiders, it would trigger the demise of the crown, and Charles would automatically become Canada’s head of state, much in the same way as in the event of her death.

“I don’t think she will abdicate,” Philippe Lagassé, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University and an expert on the Crown tells HuffPost. “Simply because it’s not in keeping with her view of her role, it’s not keeping of the coronation oath that she took. Therefore I think it’s much more likely that you would see a regency before abdication.”

“I expect that she will die wearing the crown.”

Yet were a regency were to occur, says Lagassé, the typical position is that the UK Regency Act doesn’t apply to Canada, and it’s assumed that the Governor General would be able to fulfill whatever duties are required.

The act states that if the Queen becomes “becomes incapable in mind or in body” from carrying out her Royal duties then powers are passed to the heir apparent while she is still alive.

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The Queen and Prince Charles on a tour of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment barracks near Hyde Park in London at the end of October.

The scenario is considered more than possible among British constitutional scholars who spoke to HuffPost. “It’s highly likely,” Prof. Robert Hazell, University College London’s constitutional expert, says.

It also poses myriad issues in realms like Canada where the Queen is head of state but where legislation doesn’t account for a regency.

Yet in truth, Lagassé notes, “the only thing [the Canadian] Governor General can’t do is appointment additional senators without the Queen.”

The two possible solutions Lagassé predicts for this situation are either the Canadian government arguing that the British Act of Regency does, in fact, apply to Canada, or what he terms “the penultimate worst case scenario”: passing a Canadian Regency Act that would require Parliament legislating, and has the potential to invite court challenges.

The worst case scenario, according to him? One in which all the provinces were consulted, leading to inevitable discord among the various parties’ interests.

With reporting from Eoin Blackwell in Sydney, and Rebecca Zamon in Toronto