The Parliament of the United Kingdom is set to start debate on legislation that seeks to revive the Queen’s power to dissolve parliament that was formerly exercised by virtue of the royal prerogative.
A. V. Dicey, a constitutional theorist from the 19th century, described the royal prerogative as “the remaining portion of the Crown’s original authority, and it is therefore … the name for the residue of discretionary power left at any moment in the hands of the Crown, whether such power be in fact exercised by the King himself or by his Ministers”.
The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill, introduced by the current government, aims to repeal the Fixed-terms Parliament Act 2011, passed by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government. This act removed the Queen’s power of dissolving Parliament, which was exercised by virtue of the royal prerogative. The act operated under a system whereby elections would happen five years after the previous one, and Parliament would automatically be dissolved 25 working days before the election.
Under the previous system, although Parliament would automatically expire 5 years after it first met, it was usual for the Prime Minister to request a dissolution prior to the 5 years deadline and the date of the election and of the first meeting of the new parliament would be set by the Queen via Royal Proclamation.
The Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 made sense at the time of its introduction, as it provided the conservative government with stability, though the five years interval between elections only applied at the 2015 election. Under the 2011 Act, early parliamentary general elections could only take place if agreed by 2/3 of the House of Commons or 14 days after the passing of a no-confidence motion in the House of Commons, if confidence has not been restored.
Those rules didn’t work well in 2019 during the Brexit debates when the government didn’t have a majority in the House of Commons and couldn’t call for an election, as it would be the usual way before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, because 2/3 of the House wouldn’t agree to it, thereby causing a gridlock. Following the 2019 election, which happened because the House of Commons passed specific legislation allowing it to happen, the Government was committed to abolishing the act and restoring the previous situation.
There is some debate between constitutional experts as to if it’s possible to revive a royal prerogative once it’s abolished, some arguing that under the Dissolution and Calling of Parliament bill, the Queen’s power to dissolve parliament would be based on law, not on the royal prerogative. The fact is that the new bill expressly says that the Queen’s prerogative to dissolve parliament is exercisable again as if the previous act never happened.
This article has been written by assistant editor Gabriel Aquino!