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British monarchy

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Currently the British monarch is Her Majesty Elizabeth II, By the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, Head of the Commonwealth. The monarch is also Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Although the monarch plays an important ceremonial role, in practice the British use the Westminster system of constitutional monarchy, so the power of the monarch in British politics is greatly limited by convention.

There are two situations in which the monarch may have political power. By convention, the monarch dissolves parliament and issues a writ for new elections at the request of the Prime Minister, however it is an open question as to whether the monarch must always grant such a dissolution. Another possible situation is if no party gains a majority in Parliament. The monarch would by convention offer the post of Prime Minister to the head of the party most likely to form a government, but it is possible that this may not be the party with the most seats.

The monarch must formally assent to all acts of Parliament before they can become law. Royal assent is given in Norman French by a representative of the monarch. The last time royal assent was withheld was by Queen Anne. Although there is a popular consensus in support of the continuing existence of the monarchy, there is a wide belief that this would rapidly change were the monarch to exercise power in opposition to the democratically elected government.

The current monarch is Queen Elizabeth II (since February 6, 1952) and the Heir Apparent is Charles, Prince of Wales (son of the Queen, born November 14, 1948). Although Charles is the formal heir-apparent there has been continuing speculation that when the Queen dies or abdicates then the crown will pass not to Charles, but to his eldest son. Advocates for this suggest that Charles is unsuitable as a monarch because of his divorce from Diana, Princess of Wales.

Succession to the British throne is restricted to Protestant descendants of Sophia, Electress of Hanover, with male heirs having precedence over females, though there have been moves to amend these restrictions in recent years.

Labour minister Lord Williams of Mostyn said in 1998 that the government would like to change the law to give equal precedence regardless of sex, and that the Queen had given her approval to such a change. However, the government also believes that such a change would take up a lot of parliamentary time, and would require consultation with the other countries of which the British monarch is head of state. Despite public calls for change by two female cabinet ministers, Patricia Hewitt[?] and Tessa Jowell[?], no moves have yet been taken.

The Guardian newspaper has campaigned in recent years for an abolition of the restriction on non-Protestants from succeeding to the throne. It argues that the restriction may be incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, which is now part of British law. A "ten minute rule" bill to overturn this restriction was introduced in the British House of Commons by Labour MP Kevin McNamara[?] in 2001, and won a symbolic victory when forced to a vote, but did not become law.

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