Government of the United Kingdom |
The Government of the United Kingdom, formally referred to as Her Majesty's Government, is the central government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is also commonly referred to as simply the UK Government or the British Government.
Under the uncodified British constitution, executive authority lies with the monarch, although this authority is exercised only by, or on the advice of, the prime minister and the cabinet. The Cabinet members advise the monarch as members of the Privy Council. In most cases they also exercise power directly as leaders of the Government Departments, though some Cabinet positions are sinecures to a greater or lesser degree (for instance Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster or Lord Privy Seal).
The Government is occasionally referred to with the metonym Westminster, due to that being where many of the offices of the government are situated, especially by members in the Government of Scotland, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive in order to differentiate it from their own.
The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy in which the reigning monarch (that is, the king or queen who is the head of state at any given time) does not make any open political decisions. All political decisions are taken by the government and Parliament. This constitutional state of affairs is the result of a long history of constraining and reducing the political power of the monarch, beginning with Magna Carta in 1215.
Ministers of the Crown are responsible to the House in which they sit; they make statements in that House and take questions from members of that House. For most senior ministers this is usually the elected House of Commons rather than the House of Lords. There have been some recent exceptions to this: for example, cabinet ministers Lord Mandelson (First Secretary of State) and Lord Adonis (Secretary of State for Transport) sat in the Lords and were responsible to that House during the government of Gordon Brown.
Under the British system, the government is required by convention and for practical reasons to maintain the confidence of the House of Commons. It requires the support of the House of Commons for the maintenance of supply (by voting through the government's budgets) and to pass primary legislation. By convention, if a government loses the confidence of the House of Commons it must either resign or a General Election is held. The support of the Lords, while useful to the government in getting its legislation passed without delay, is not vital. A government is not required to resign even if it loses the confidence of the Lords and is defeated in key votes in that House. The House of Commons is thus the Responsible house.
Government ministers are also required by convention and the Ministerial Code, when Parliament is sitting, to make major statements regarding government policy or issues of national importance to Parliament. This allows MPs or Lords to question the government on the statement. When the government instead chooses to make announcements first outside Parliament, it is often the subject of significant criticism from MPs and the Speaker of the House of Commons.
In addition to explicit statutory authority, in many areas the Crown also possesses a body of powers known as the Royal Prerogative, which can be used for many purposes, from the issue or withdrawal of passports to declaration of war. By long-standing custom, most of these powers are delegated from the sovereign to various ministers or other officers of the Crown, who may use them without having to obtain the consent of Parliament.
As of 2019, there are around 120 government ministers supported by 560,000 Civil Servants and other staff working in the 25 Ministerial Departments and their executive agencies. There are also an additional 20 non-Ministerial Departments with a range of further responsibilities.
The government's powers include general executive and statutory powers, delegated legislation, and numerous powers of appointment and patronage. However, some powerful officials and bodies, (e.g. HM judges, local authorities, and the Charity Commissions) are legally more or less independent of the government, and government powers are legally limited to those retained by the Crown under Common Law or granted and limited by Act of Parliament, and are subject to European Union law and the competencies that it defines. Both substantive and procedural limitations are enforceable in the Courts by judicial review.