‘My Allegiance is to These Islands, Not the King’
Adrian Goldberg speaks to Paul Powlesland, who was threatened with arrest for suggesting that he may write ‘not my King’ on a sign
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While the UK has been paying its respects to Queen Elizabeth II, protestors peacefully challenging the accession of King Charles III have faced a clampdown.
There have been arrests in Edinburgh and Oxford, and a woman was led away by police after holding up a “not my King” sign outside Parliament.
That incident so outraged barrister Paul Powlesland that he headed to Westminster to protest with a blank piece of paper. A video of his subsequent encounter with a police officer has gone viral.
On the latest Byline Times Podcast, he told me why he decided to protest.
The reason I went down was because I saw the video of a woman with the “Not My King” sign being led away. It really affected me. I was annoyed and upset by it. Freedom of speech is one of our most fundamental rights, which has taken many centuries to build up. And it’s often in these moments of national patriotic fervour, that the right [to free speech] can get lost if you don’t actively uphold it.
So I decided to go with a just a blank piece of paper, to point to the fact that maybe we’re not allowed to say certain things anymore. And that in itself is a protest worth having.
I walked around for a bit and an officer then asked me for my details. And I asked him, “What would happen if I wrote, ‘not my king’” on the piece of paper?” And he said, “Well, you’d probably be arrested because it’s offensive.”
Q. You posted a video of that conversation online. What has the reaction been?
It has gone wild. It has tapped into something that I think is a more common opinion than we think – or at least more common than is represented the mainstream media.
I’m sensing quite a lot of people, whilst respectful towards the Queen and the mourning period around the funeral, are actually quite annoyed at the way the Queen’s death and a lot of the affection that was felt for the Queen is being rather cynically used by Charles to bolster his accession.
And his acceptance as the new King, that’s quite a big question. And it’s a political question, you know, ‘should we have a new King?’ And if this is not the time to question that, when is?
Q. I think most fair minded people would acknowledge that Queen Elizabeth II attempted to do the best for her country, given the role that she inherited. Can you be pro-Queen and anti-monarchy?
I wouldn’t even say I was I was pro-Queen. Intellectually I was against the idea of monarchy; it doesn’t really make much sense. But she was always there wasn’t she? And she was there when my parents were born; she’s just always been there. And it kind of worked. It was comforting, in a strange way to have this familiar presence.
But Charles is not her and it feels very odd, when we’ve always had the same monarch, for someone else to come in and say, ‘Hi, I’m now your King and you are my subjects’.
And everyone’s doing all these trumpets, and ‘God save the King’ and what feels like nonsense to be honest. And [Charles] is doing it, I think, to be reflected in the Queen’s memory in good standing to try and bring some of that onto him. And that’s a cynical exercise that I’m not in favour of.
Q. Do you think that there is a place for the police perhaps to intervene? Not to clamp down on protests per se, but to acknowledge the sensitivities of mourners?
No, I don’t think it’s a role for the police. I personally wouldn’t do [protest] outside a memorial event, but I don’t think it is illegal, and I don’t think it should be illegal.
There should be a base level of freedom, and sometimes that is going to involve encountering views that you that you don’t like.
Q. You’re saying that Charles is not your King? Why not?
He’s a prince of the House of Saxe Coburg Gotha. It’s a random German royal family that was trucked over here because we didn’t have any other heirs.
On what basis would I believe him to be my king and for me to owe him allegiance? Not on the basis of any particular thing that he’s done as a person? Not on the basis of my
consent, because I never voted or agreed to it.
Luckily, because I was born a British citizen, I never had to go through the silly ceremony where you pledge allegiance to the King. And I have never, and I don’t think I ever will pledge allegiance to him. No one can make me do that. I hold no allegiance to him, I wouldn’t fight for him, I wouldn’t really do anything for him.
My allegiance is to these islands, and the weird, wonderful, often bizarre, but usually kind people that I inhabit these islands with and to the thoughts, ideas and systems that have built up over centuries.
And we’re very lucky to have free speech. Those are my allegiances – not to a prince of a German family that’s been around for a couple of hundred years.
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Q. And is the strongest argument against any form of monarchy the idea that nobody should have power or privilege handed to them purely by accident of birth?
Britain is great at that. The monarchy is really the most obvious example of it, but of course, we still have more than 100 hereditary members of the House of Lords, who make legislation by dint of birth.
We have people who own vast tracts of the countryside by accident of birth, which they exclude other people from; and of course, huge wealth by birth which they use to control the political process.
And there’s the media. The Daily Mail is owned by heredity, and then used to control
significant amounts of the media narrative in this country.
So the Royal Family is the most obvious example, but Britain is replete with examples of those who wield power by pure accident of birth. And I think it’s the task of people who disagree with that to really speak out against it.