The Great British Republic: As the Royal Family crisis deepens, Michael Fathers peeps into a crystal ball that shows a fateful evening in the next century when the House of Commons is told that the monarchy is to be abolished

LAST night Britain became a republic. In a packed but subdued House of Commons, MPs listened as the Clerk of the House announced in medieval French that the Queen had given her assent to the Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Bill, thus ending more than 1,000 years of royal rule in Britain.

The Prime Minister, Virginia Bottomley, told parliament that following last month's referendum, which narrowly came down in favour of a republic, her government would do its utmost to protect the Royal Family from any public humiliation. The Queen, while remaining monarch of New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, had asked to be allowed to reside in Britain and the Government had agreed. From now on she would be known as the Duchess of Edinburgh.

The former Queen had been allowed to keep her private fortune and her residences at Balmoral and Sandringham. Mrs Bottomley said the former monarch would remain in Buckingham Palace until the new president, Lord Lineker, took up residence at the new presidential lodge in Regent's Park, in about a month. Buckingham Palace would be open to the public and there were plans to turn it into an art gallery to display the former monarch's collection of paintings, which it was announced last week she was giving to the new republic as part of a long-delayed tax settlement.

IF BRITAIN were to become a republic the constitutional transition would probably be smooth. One head of state would step into the shoes of another, just as the governor-generals in India and South Africa gave way to presidents when each country became a republic in 1950 and 1961. That is the perfect scenario.

Difficulties would arise, constitutional lawyers say, if change went beyond merely replacing a hereditary monarch with an elected president.

The central issue would be whether Britain should have a written constitution. From there the debate would widen: whether to give the president an executive role as in France or the United States; whether there should be a head of state at all; whether all the Queen's powers should be passed to the president or only some; whether the House of Lords should be abolished. Who should choose the president? Should he or she be elected by universal suffrage, by an electoral college or by parliament, and for how long?

Once you open discussion it spreads to every aspect of administration, to the law courts, the armed forces, the clergy, local government - to every officer who takes an oath of allegiance to the monarch. Would the honours system remain intact?

The Crown, you are told by supporters of the status quo, acts as a pin to keep the whole structure together. But if you took it away, would the edifice collapse? Royalists say it would. Republicans say it would not.

Lord Blake, a historian and former provost of Queen's College, Oxford, who is in favour of the monarchy, said he envisaged intense controversy. 'It wouldn't be just a matter of abolishing the monarchy. There would have to be an Act of Parliament which would deal with a great many other things besides, such as the appointment of judges, diplomats and others.'

You have to turn to Cromwell's Commonwealth to find out what happened when England last went republican. Everything from the king down went out of the window, permanently in the king's case, for 11 years for the rest. Bishops ceased to exist, the House of Lords was abolished, every symbol of royal office was destroyed.

Christopher Hill, a leading authority on that period, says that in the 17th century it was an instant clearing-away. 'It happened with a bang. They (the parliamentarians) tried for years to negotiate with Charles I to accept parliamentary supremacy and he just lied and tried to deceive them in every possible way. Finally they found it impossible to negotiate with him and they chopped his head off. Most of them weren't theoretical republicans. They just couldn't deal with this impossible king who thought he was there by the grace of God.'

It would be hard to find anyone today who thought the Queen was there by divine right, but there is no great antipathy towards her personally. A financial settlement of some sort would have to be provided, which would probably let her keep her private wealth.

The rest of us would see no financial benefit. Taxes would not be affected. The annual pounds 7.9m civil list, which provides the monarch and her immediate family with funds for their public duties, could probably not be reduced greatly. The new president would need to be maintained; state banquets would continue; the new museums at Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace, Windsor Castle and Holyrood House would need looking after.

Still, in a thousand tiny ways we would be living in a different country. New postage stamps without the Queen's head could be in post offices within two weeks of the abolition, say Post Office officials. Changes to the coinage would take longer. The Mint says it would need about nine months to bring out 'republican' coins, the same gap it needed in 1952 when George VI died and his daughter ascended the throne. Coins from Elizabeth's reign would remain in circulation until they wore out. A new design for banknotes might take a year or so. Until 1960 banknotes did not have the monarch's head. Britannia, who made her first appearance in AD161, ruled then on coins as she probably would on notes in the Republic of Great Britain.

All the visible symbols of the Crown would disappear, except perhaps where they were carved in stone or kept as part of the 'heritage industry'.

Go to court and the lion and unicorn above the judge's bench would have gone. Soldiers would no longer have a crown on their caps or their uniform. Barring separatist tendencies, the Union flag would remain unchanged, though the term 'United Kingdom' would have to go.

And the Commonwealth? There are some constitutional experts who say that before Britain could formally abolish the monarchy and declare itself a republic, it would need the parliamentary consent of the Queen's other 14 realms. This was the case in 1936 when Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, as self-governing dominions, were required to pass legislation approving Edward VIII's abdication.

The Commonwealth would not go away, even if you took away its royal head. The body may not mean much to British governments but it means a lot to its other 49 members.

'I don't think there is any doubt among existing members that they want the association to continue,' said Richard Nzerem, a lawyer in the Commonwealth Secretariat. 'What form it might take without the Queen is a matter they will have to decide when that situation arises.'

BUT SAY the transition did not go smoothly. What would happen, for example, if a royalist party urged the Queen not to sign the abolition bill, protesting that the referendum was loaded in favour of a republic and that the result was not a true reflection of the people's mood?

'If the Queen didn't sign the bill, or dissolved Parliament - which is also within her power - you would have a royal coup d'etat,' Tony Benn said. 'We must be the only country in the world where a coup d'etat is legal. But the monarch would do it only if she was sure public opinion supported her.'

She might find her greatest support in the armed forces. 'Civilian and military relations in this country are a model of their kind,' said General Sir John Hackett, former Commander-in-Chief of the British Army of the Rhine. 'We are commissioned by the Sovereign into an armed force which under our parliamentary system is raised by the Sovereign but handled by Parliament. It is a perfectly balanced system. But if you pull out one pin the whole lot falls down.'

He feared that unless the issue of how to transfer allegiance from a monarch to a president or a constitution were given 'very serious thought' there could be mass resignations of regular officers in all forces.

And so we are back in the House of Commons on that fateful evening sometime in the next century . . .

BEFORE she sat down, Mrs Bottomley told the house that the 'discipline problem' at the Household Cavalry barracks had been brought under control. She said that 20 senior officers had resigned their commissions after refusing to swear the new oath of allegiance to the republic's president. Amid shouts of 'mutiny' from the Labour backbenches, the Prime Minister went on to say it was an isolated incident that in no way reflected morale in the armed forces. Soldiers, seamen and airmen in general, she said, accepted the new constitutional arrangements. The Metropolitan Police, she added, were even as she spoke surrounding the offices of the British Tourist Board and the Sun newspaper, where staff were threatening to kill hostages unless the monarchy was restored.

(Photographs omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
News
Ernesto Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, right, met at Havana Golf Club in 1962 to mock the game
newsFidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?