The Constitution Unit

The Prerogative Powers of Governments

Episode Summary

This episode of 'UCL Uncovering Politics' explores the powers of political executives. What can ministers and presidents do without the consent of the legislature? And what place should such powers have in a democracy?

Episode Notes

We typically divide the modern state into three branches: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. On a traditional view, the legislature makes the laws, the executive implements them, and the judiciary decides on disputes. 

In reality, in most states, the executive in fact plays a much bigger role than that. It not only executes the will of the legislature, but also shapes the policy agenda, develops legislative proposals, and conducts a great deal of foreign policy. 

And on some matters the executive can act without the consent of the legislature – even, in some cases, against its explicit opposition. Here in the UK, such powers are called prerogative powers, and they have been pretty controversial in recent years – relating, for example, to the government’s ability to suspend sittings of parliament. And they raised eyebrows in the United States too, when, on his first day in office, President Biden reversed a whole series of Trump-era policies just by signing a set of executive orders.

So what such prerogative powers exist? How do they work? And, in the context of modern democracy, should they be subject to greater constraints? This episode of 'UCL Uncovering Politics' explores these questions, and more.  

Host: Dr Alan Renwick

Guest: Professor Robert Hazell

You can read more about the  SSHRC-funded research project  on the prerogative powers which Robert Hazell is working on here: