The head of the Queen’s Canadian government sees his head of state

It’s easily and widely forgotten in Britain that “Her Majesty’s Government”, or HMG, headed by Mr Cameron at Westminster, is only one of the Queen’s 16 governments around the world.  The Queen has been the head of state of  32 countries in all, the UK being just one of them.  According to Wikipedia,

The Queen has had 12 British Prime Ministers, second only to George III, who had 14, and two more than the number had by Queen Victoria. She has also had 14 New Zealand Prime Ministers, 12 Australian Prime Ministers and 11 Canadian Prime Ministers. The Queen has had a total of 157 Prime Ministers during her reign.

Ignoring for the purposes of this note the intriguing reference here to ten British prime ministers who were “had by Queen Victoria”, I just want to make the point that any of the Queen’s prime ministers naturally has automatic access to her whenever he or she needs or wants it.  A telephone call, letter or email to the Palace is all that’s needed.  All 16 of her prime ministers are heads of government of independent sovereign states, and all are of equal constitutional status — even Mr Cameron.  The prime minister of Canada discusses Canadian and international affairs with the Queen of Canada;  Mr Cameron discusses British and international affairs with the Queen of the United Kingdom. When the Queen is visiting The Most Honourable Mrs Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller, ON, MP, Her Majesty is the Queen of Jamaica. She’s the same person but she acts in different capacities.

So it was surprising to read in the Guardian newspaper of 14 June (yesterday) a report by Patrick Wintour according to which:

The prime minister was meeting continued resistance from his Canadian counterpart, Stephen Harper, over critical plans to require countries to reveal the true beneficial owners of shell companies and trusts. The measure is vital to combatting money laundering, fighting tax evasion and turning tax information exchange into something meaningful.
Cameron laid on the diplomatic red carpet for Harper, giving him the rare honour of speaking to both houses of parliament, a visit to the Queen and a lengthy bilateral meeting at Downing Street. But Harper is worried about exposing private Canadian tax affairs and fears complications arising from Canada‘s federal structure.  [Emphasis added.]

I submitted a letter to the Guardian drawing attention to this constitutional nonsense:

The suggestion that in his efforts to win over the Canadian prime minister, Stephen Harper, to the cause of transparency over company ownerships for the G8, David Cameron has “given him the rare honour of … a visit to the Queen” (Cameron faces 11-th hour battle over G8 objectives, 14 June) ignores the reality that as the prime minister of one of Her Majesty’s Governments (namely her Canadian government), Mr Harper has precisely the same right and opportunity of access to the Queen as Mr Cameron, the prime minister of another of HM Governments.  Mr Harper needs no help from Mr Cameron in arranging to see the Queen.
Brian Barder
14 June 2013

With remarkable self-restraint, I forebore to mention the Guardian’s spelling of ‘combating’, focusing [sic] instead on the constitutional issue.  My letter hasn’t been published (yet, anyway).  I suppose it’s regarded in the newspaper’s letters section as nit-picking — as, indeed, it is.  There are about 35 million Canadians, less than a half of 1 per cent of the world’s population, and it would be surprising if as many as 1 per cent of them read the Guardian.  I doubt if Mr Wintour is kept awake at night by the thought of a maximum of 350,000 Canadians wincing when they read his blooper.




4 Responses

  1. Would it not be a matter for the British Government if the Canadian Prime Minister sought an audience with the Head of State of the United Kingdom, rather than with the Head of State of Canada? We don’t know that that was not the case, do we?

    Brian writes: Thank you for this ingenious enquiry, Barrie. But I can’t think of any circumstances in which the head of one of HM governments could properly seek an approach to HM in her capacity as the head of state of one of her other realms. Since she is a constitutional not an executive head of her 16 states, the only way for anyone to have access to her in her capacity as head of another state must be to speak or write to the prime minister or another minister of the state concerned. For example, whereas the ambassador of a foreign (non-Commonwealth) state accredited to the UK presents his credentials to the Queen under arrangements made by the UK FCO and the Palace, the high commissioner of (say) Australia accredited to the UK can’t present his credentials to the Queen as Queen of the UK, because the Queen’s representative can’t present credentials to herself, even in a different national capacity. The Australian high commissioner to the UK therefore presents a letter of introduction to the UK prime minister instead, and although he represents Australia in the UK, he doesn’t represent the Queen of Australia here. I represented the Queen (of the UK) when I was ambassador to Poland — and my Australian colleague the Australian ambassador to Poland represented the Queen of Australia in Poland, but when I was UK high commissioner to Australia, I couldn’t represent the Queen there because the Queen is represented in Australia by the Governor-General of Australia (an Australian citizen appointed by the Queen acting on the advice of the Australian prime minister).

    I don’t know if that answers your question. Put more concisely, if Mr Harper, the Canadian prime minister, had a message for the Queen in her UK capacity, he would have to ask the UK prime minister or foreign secretary to deliver it, or rather to deal with it in the (UK) Queen’s name. But this would be highly unusual. A Canadian prime minister deals with the Queen of Canada, not with the Queen of St Lucia or the Queen of the UK.

  2. Thank you, Brian. Perhaps it is simply that representatives of other governments, regardless of whether or not they are governments of Realms, do not call on the Head of State of the United Kingdom to discuss bilateral matters, but do so, if at all, only as a courtesy. However, if we are eccentric enough to regard The Queen as being constitutionally divided into sixteen parts, why can’t we be consistent about it, and regard the Australian High Commissioner in London as representing one-sixteenth of The Queen to another one-sixteenth of The Queen?

    Brian writes: This is getting increasingly esoteric. The Queen is represented in her realms other than the UK by a Governor-General. High Commissioners (the title of ambassadors from one Commonwealth country to another) can’t also represent her. In the UK Commonwealth high commissioners can’t represent her when she’s present in person anyway. Nor can they meaningfully present to the Queen (or her representative) credentials signed by the Queen (or her representative), assuring the Queen that the Queen has full confidence in the high commissioner and commends him to herself. (End of this exchange, I think.)

  3. Lorna Lloyd says:

    This was a constitutional battle that was fought out well over 50 years ago.  The position is as Brian says.

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Lorna — as you’re one of the leading experts on precisely this subject, your endorsement is particularly welcome.

  4. I know what the position is. I was just highlighting its oddity, and suggesting there was an inconsistency in it.

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