Queen's 'subjects' may soon become citizens

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David Blunkett is facing pressure to strip the Queen of archaic constitutional powers in moves that would further weaken the monarchy. He has been urged to scrap the ancient feudal system under which all Britons are subjects of the Queen rather than citizens in the eyes of the law.

In a move that will be welcomed by MPs who favour Britain becoming a republic, the Home Secretary has been asked to bring in laws to clearly define the rights and duties of being British. They started to lobby Mr Blunkett after he announced that asylum seekers would be given US-style citizenship lessons.

Advocates of the change say the review of rules for immigrants provides the perfect opportunity to change the law to make everyone in Britain a citizen. At the moment we are not citizens of the UK, only of the European Union.

Such a move would be a step towards a written constitution, and could bring an end to the oath of allegiance that all MPs have to swear after each general election.

The oath is resented by many prominent Labour MPs and has long prevented elected Sinn Fein MPs from taking their seats at Westminster.

Others want change to go further, to end the situation in which the Prime Minister is nominated by the Queen alone rather than being elected by a new Parliament.

The Labour MP Graham Allen has written to Mr Blunkett welcoming his proposals on immigration and asylum, but asking him to use the opportunity to "define what it actually means to be a British citizen". It is a concept that doesn't exist in British law, where everyone is a subject of the monarch.

"This concept, from the feudal age, is no longer an adequate definition of national identity," Mr Allen's letter said. "This would be a good time to set out in law and policy the bundle of rights and duties which make up being British. Then we can prepare everyone for citizenship – not only immigrants but children."

Citizenship lessons are already on the national curriculum in schools. But under the system proposed by Mr Allen, the law would dictate the rules and rights of citizenship and feed into those lessons.

He said: "The whole concept of being a subject in a modern democracy is demeaning. People should be citizens."

The Home Office said the details of Mr Blunkett's citizenship package would be published in a discussion paper shortly. That is expected to contain the scope of the idea as well as details of what citizenship lessons could entail and how it is likely to be tested. It is unclear whether the Government will make immigrants sit a test like the one that must be passed by people applying to become American citizens.

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