Sasha Borissenko: Queen Elizabeth of England – a monarch above the law

OPINION:

Every person and their dog have been harping on about the interview involving Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, and Oprah yet few people have mentioned key points: firstly, there’s the bizarre public sentiment – nay obsession – with celebridom juxtaposed against the fact more than 2.6 million people have died at the hands of Covid-19.

Then there’s the issue of Prince Andrew and his alleged involvement in a paedophile ring that has effectively gone by the wayside. Finally, there’s the dichotomy of being outwardly opposed to the media, yet fuelling it by participating in a worldwide broadcast interview.

Nevertheless, the interview concerning the royal family has also shed light on the power of public relations and perhaps the state of the news media.

Let’s jump on the bandwagon and assess some of the strange and wonderful rules or lack thereof that concern the mother behind “Mother England”.

According to the royal family website – yes website – “[t]he Sovereign today still retains an important symbolic role as the figure in whose name justice is carried out, and law and order is maintained”.

This statement is interesting given the number of laws and protocols the monarchy can disregard without consequence.

For example, it’s of little surprise that the Queen enjoys sovereign immunity – meaning she’s exempt from criminal and civil proceedings.

But what I didn’t know is that the royal family can flout speed limits if they’re carrying out royal duties involving police under the Road Traffic Regulation Act; she can travel without a passport because as it’s one of her duties to issue them, so the need for one is rendered moot; she can avoid the horror that is jury duty; and she can drive without a driver’s license and number plate.

Contrary to popular belief there are no obligatory codes of behaviour when meeting the Queen or a member of her corgi-loving clan, the official website insists. However, traditional forms can be exercised by way of men exercising a neck bow (from the head only) while women are to curtsy.

If you’re in the position of presenting to the Queen, the correct formal address is “Your Majesty” and subsequently “Ma’am,’ pronounced with a short ‘a,’ as in ‘jam”, the website reads.

For male members of the royal family the same rules apply, with “sir” to be used as opposed to “ma’am” as in “jam”.

Moving on. The monarchy is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, which creates a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by most public authorities. The logic is that seeing as the household is not a public authority within the legislation, it is exempt from its provisions.

It effectively means the public has no right to know what the household spends public funds on, for example. However, full details of public funding of the monarchy have been provided regardless since 2001.

Speaking of money, Liz is exempt from paying taxes thanks to a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding, but in 1992 she volunteered to pay income tax and capital gains tax, and since 1993 her personal income has been taxable. According to the official website the Queen has always been subject to Value Added Tax and pays local rates on a voluntary basis. For context, it’s said the Queen’s estate is worth around £500 million ($969.7m).

According to the annual financial report ending 31 March last year, £38.3m was spent on property maintenance, which included £16.4m expenditure on the Reservicing of Buckingham Palace.

Meanwhile, £24.4m was paid in payroll costs, and £5.3m was spent on travel. It was actually Meghan and Harry’s tour of South Africa, Botswana, Angola, and Malawi that cost the most in travel for the year, at £245,643. Prince Charles came in second, spending £210,345 to pay condolences to His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, following the death of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said.

In total, £650,578 was spent on 188 helicopter trips, £272,379 was spent on 63 charter flights, £180,489 was put towards scheduled flights, and £96,273 was spent on scheduled train trips.

In a ‘Realm of New Zealand’ context, non-for-profit group Monarchy New Zealand has said it costs New Zealanders about one dollar per person per year to pay for the “small outlay for royal engagements and tours in this country, and the modest expenses of the Governor-General’s establishment”.

In contrast, republican advocacy group New Zealand Republic claimed the office of Governor-General cost taxpayers about $7.6m in ongoing costs in 2010.

What does this tell us? If New Zealand was to consider cutting the umbilical cord, might I suggest we call it MEGXIT, or better yet, NZXIT?

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