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Why William, Kate and George will not be touring down under as British royals

Birth of Prince George of CambridgeIn just about a week’s time, The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George will make their first trip to New Zealand and Australia as a family. This tour (not ‘visit’ as will be made clear in a moment), will be the first time the countries have played host to two future sovereigns since 1983 when The Prince and Princess of Wales, with Prince William, toured the countries.

Thanks to a little-known law passed in 1931 (known as the Statute of Westminster), Prince William, Catherine and Prince George will be landing in down-under on 7th April as members of the New Zealand Royal Family, not as British royals.

This distinction may seem superfluous to some, though to citizens of the respective Commonwealth realms – it is the difference between their Royal Family coming home and welcoming the family of a foreign Monarch to the country.

Sixteen countries in the world recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their Head of State, these are known as the Commonwealth realms (the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Papua New Guinea, St Christopher and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Tuvalu, Barbados, Grenada, Solomon Islands, St Lucia and The Bahamas) – by and large, these are countries formerly part of the British Empire but that are now independent sovereign states which choose to retain their connection to the Monarchy in this way.

With the exception of the United Kingdom, each of the Commonwealth realms has a representative of Her Majesty resident, acting on The Queen’s behalf in that country. They are known as the Governors-General and they perform the daily duties that The Queen herself might if she was resident in one of the country.

There are some things which remain consistent throughout the countries, though. For example, members of the Royal Family retain their British titles throughout each of the 15 other realms by courtesy, rather than being styled with different titles in each country (e.g. Prince Charles is still known as The Prince of Wales throughout the Commonwealth realms) and the regnal numbering of Monarchs is consistent with the United Kingdom’s (The Queen is Elizabeth II in Australia, for example, even though there has never been an Elizabeth I of Australia) and none of the other realms require a coronation for a new Monarch.

Should Scotland vote for independence in September, however, the Government say it will become the 17th Commonwealth realm, retaining Her Majesty as Queen of Scots – the Church of Scotland has also said that The Queen’s successors will require a separate coronation in Scotland aside from the one at Westminster Abbey.

The Queen of Canada in Toronto in 2010

The Queen of Canada in Toronto in 2010

The distinction of each of the realms being separate but sharing one Queen was most prominent recently when the laws regarding the Succession to the Crown were changed to allow females equal rights of succession. Because of it, each of the 16 countries (with a few exceptions) had to pass laws in their own parliaments to ensure all the thrones will have the same line of succession, preventing a possible constitutional headache in the future. As yet, only two states in Australia need to pass laws before the new rules can be brought into force.

Over the years, issues with the arrangement have been encountered. In some of the realms, there is ambivalence towards the idea that knighthoods and damehoods should be awarded to citizens like in the UK. For years, many of the realms, including Australia, New Zealand and Canada, upheld a convention on not awarding knighthoods until 2009 when New Zealand reinstated them to the Order of New Zealand and also this year when Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot reinstated them to the Order of Australia.

The Queen, where appropriate, can still confer knighthoods on Commonwealth realms citizens through the Royal Victorian Order, which is given by the Sovereign in a personal capacity rather than on the advice of the British Government such as the Order of the British Empire is.

By and large, the current arrangement proves popular in most of the realms, with bouts of republicanism usually being quelled after a royal visit.

The Queen Mother perhaps explained the constitutional arrangements best on a tour of Canada with her husband King George VI (the first by a reigning Monarch in history) in 1939. When two Boer War veterans of Scottish descent asked The Queen Mother whether she was Scottish or English she simply replied, “since I have landed in Quebec, I think we can say that I am a Canadian.”

The visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George soon will perhaps help to remind New Zealanders and Australians of this important distinction between the realms as they look forward to welcoming to future kings and a queen home.

photo credits: Michael Middleton/PA Wire and lbagli (cc)

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