Republic supports the replacement of the monarch with an elected head of state. The kind of head of state we think is best for Britain is a 'ceremonial' or 'constitutional' position, someone chosen by the people to:
- represent the nation
- defend our democracy
- act as referee in the political process
- offer a non-political voice at times of crisis and celebration
The job would not simply be ceremonial, our new head of state would have very clear and limited powers. Those powers would be non-political, which means that they can only be exercised according to certain official criteria. Our elected head of state would not be allowed to make decisions based on their own political opinions (much like a judge uses their power according to the law and the facts of the case, not letting their personal politics get in the way).
What sort of powers would the head of state have?
In a republic all our politicians would have to obey a set of rules that are decided by the people (written down in a constitution and voted on by the public). The head of state would be able to stop the politicians from doing something if they are breaking the rules - but not just because they disagree with the politicians.
For example, if the constitution says that new treaties with the EU require a referendum, if the government tried to sign a new deal with the EU without first asking the voters then the president could step in. The head of state wouldn't be allowed to get involved in the debate about the merits of the EU, but would be able to insist the government followed the rules.
Also, if we have another hung parliament where no party has enough MPs to form a government, then the president would preside over the process of deciding who should become prime minister. This would ensure the process was fair and even handed and all parties had the opportunity to have their voices heard.
Our elected head of state would be free to speak out on important issues of the day, but would not be allowed to speak on party political matters or get involved in party politics. The head of state could give a voice to the people's concerns or hopes, put new issues onto the public agenda or support community groups and charities in promoting non-partisan causes.
The rules that would govern politicians would also apply to the head of state - these rules would stop them becoming party-political.
What if our new head of state does something wrong?
The great thing about an elected head of state is that their actions, behaviour and public spending are all open to proper scrutiny, and if they do something wrong they can be sacked. So unlike Prince Charles, who ignores the unwritten rule that he shouldn't become political, in a republic the head of state could be challenged if they step out of line.
Once elected by the people the head of state is expected to abide by the rules that set out how they should behave. If they break those rules then parliament will have the power to remove them and call a fresh election. The number of votes needed in parliament to do this would be high enough to ensure that the decision must have cross-party support. No decision to sack the head of state could be taken for political reasons, only on the grounds that they have broken the rules that go with the job.
The politicians would not have the power to change these rules as they would be written down and agreed by the voters in a referendum.
An independent and neutral head of state
- Britain already elects independent officials, including the Speaker of the Commons (currently Lindsay Hoyle)
Even if an elected head of state has previously been a party politician they can still be independent and neutral (impartial) once in the job. The rules of the job would require them to be non-partisan and because their actions are open to scrutiny the public and politicians can judge whether those rules are being followed.
Britain already has plenty of examples of people in these kinds of positions, most notably the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker is elected to parliament as a party MP, but once he or she is chosen as Speaker they remove themselves from party political debates and instead represent the whole of the Commons and act as referee in MPs' debates.
The BBC is also headed by people (as Chair of the BBC Trust) who have previously had party political affiliations. Judges can also be political one day and perform an independent and impartial job the next. No-one is truly 'non-political', but anyone can perform a job in an impartial way - so long as we can see that that's what they're doing.
Election rules can be designed to limit the involvement of parties and corporate funding (and unlike with the royals funding can be made open and transparent). An open nominations process and a fair system of voting will ensure the person with the most support is chosen.
Our experience in electing mayors and police commissioners shows that voters are able and willing to choose candidates from outside the big political parties.
Candidates may be people with successful careers in law, business, foreign affairs, teaching, science, or someone who has made a name for themselves championing a popular cause or running a big charity. In a great country like ours, with over sixty million people, we'll be spoilt for choice.
The experience of other countries
- Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland
Other countries have heads of state similar to the one Republic supports for Britain. Most notably is our nearest neighbour the Republic of Ireland. Ireland has elected a series of excellent presidents including Mary McAleese (so popular she was re-elected unopposed), Mary Robinson who went on to serve with the United Nations and Michael D Higgins.
Germany's head of state is elected by an assembly made up of national and regional politicians. In recent years two presidents have had to resign for either breaking the rules of the job or getting into political controversies. These resignations and the way in which the presidents were replaced show how robust the democratic alternative is. When an elected head of state gets it wrong they are held to account. If a royal gets it wrong it's either laughed off or excused without debate.
The Italian head of state has been central to holding the state together while Italy suffers political and economic crises. This is the role of referee in action, as the politicians argue about forming a new government the head of state can keep things together and provide continuity. In Britain if we faced a similar crisis we would have no-one but our MPs to look to, the Queen simply cannot play the same role as arbiter and referee (and made a point of refusing to get involved after the 2010 election when we were left with a hung parliament).
Not like the US or France: A very British head of state
Republic supports a non-partisan head of state who is not involved in making political decisions or running the government. So we don't support a system like they have in France or the United States. We believe the best alternative to the monarchy is a head of state who is able to do the job that the Queen cannot do. It is a serious job of representing the nation, acting as referee in the political process, championing the interests of the people and defending our democratic traditions.
Every country has a head of state, whether it is a president or a monarch. In many countries the head of state is a different person to the head of government, who is often referred to as prime minister. This is true of monarchies like Britain, Sweden and Denmark as well as republics like Ireland, Germany and Poland.
After 70 years, we're so used to the Queen as head of state that we often assume the way she carries out the role is the only way it can – or should – be done.
But because the Queen is unelected, there are important jobs she can't do – ones that an elected head of state, chosen by and answerable to the people, could.
When prime minister Boris Johnson asked the Queen to prorogue parliament (suspend it for a few weeks) it was clear that the Queen has no independent role to play. For the first time the Queen's real job, which is to do what the PM tells her, was highlighted on prime time TV. Whatever you think about Brexit, it can't be right that the head of state is there for no reason other than do the PM's bidding.
What is a head of state for?
- Katerina Sakellaropoulou, President of Greece
The phrase “ceremonial head of state” is misleading. It suggests that the role is purely for decoration, when it is actually a crucial part of the political system.
Because an elected head of state's neutrality is prescribed by law, they can be genuinely independent of government, acting as an impartial referee of the political system and an extra check on the power of government.
If there's a risk that a new law may breach fundamental rights or principles, for example, a head of state may refer it to the Supreme Court. Or if there is widespread public opposition to a bill, the president may consult the people in a referendum. These powers are rarely used, but vitally important in a democracy.
Aside from these formal functions, a president represents their country on the world stage and takes a leading role at times of national celebration, uncertainty or tragedy. In carrying out these parts of the job, an elected head of state knows they will be held to account for their words and actions, providing a strong incentive to be unifying and inclusive.
If a president attempts to overreach their powers, there's a clear process for removing them from office - unlike a monarch. And a president is paid a straightforward annual salary, usually with a small office and one official residence; the public is not expected to fund their extended family or maintain multiple homes.
Republic calls for a constitutional head of state.
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