LONDON – Queen Camilla or plain Princess Consort? Amid conflicting messages from the British government and the royals, who cannot agree on the title of Prince Charles' (search) future wife, one Labour lawmaker is demanding answers.
"This sends shock waves across the world," said Andrew Mackinlay, who has peppered the government with questions about the royal wedding and how it relates to Britain's nebulous constitution.
The government says Camilla Parker Bowles (search) would be queen if Prince Charles becomes king, while the royals say she doesn't want the title.
"Gilbert and Sullivan could not have written this," Mackinlay told The Associated Press. "Parliament is the custodian of the constitution. I do not give a damn who the man marries, but what I am not prepared to do is see changes in the constitution by stealth."
Opinion polls show the British public seems reconciled to Charles' remarriage, but chart strong, continuing resistance to accepting his fiancee as queen.
When he announced the marriage, Charles sought to tackle that sentiment, saying his new wife would be known as the Duchess of Cornwall, rather than the Princess of Wales — the title used by the late Princess Diana.
Should Charles live long enough to succeed his robustly healthy, 78-year-old mother, Queen Elizabeth II, "it is intended" that Parker Bowles would be styled as Princess Consort, his statement added.
That obviously left the door ajar for Camilla to become queen, should public opposition subside.
Mackinlay, however, wanted the matter nailed down.
He roiled the waters with a routine parliamentary device, a written question to the Department of Constitutional Affairs, asking "whether the proposed marriage of HRH Prince of Wales to Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles is morganatic." A morganatic marriage is one in which the spouse of inferior status has no claim to the status of the other.
The answer was simply, "no."
The implication, the government confirmed, was that she would automatically become queen when Charles took the throne, regardless of the title she preferred to use.
Parliament, the government argued this week, would have to pass legislation to stop Camilla from becoming queen.
Nonsense, said Charles' Clarence House office. The government's advice had been wrongly interpreted, it said, and if Parker Bowles didn't want to be called queen, legislation would not be needed.
"Mrs. Parker Bowles can, as she wishes, be referred to as Princess Consort, rather than queen, without legislation," Clarence House communications secretary Paddy Harverson said Wednesday.
Mackinlay, a member of Prime Minister Tony Blair's governing Labour Party, is outraged Clarence House is questioning the government's legal advice and finds the affair farcical.
"My feeling is that there is still too much deference by politicians of the left and right to the royal family," said the lawmaker. He is a passionate believer in Parliament's right to hold government to account and insists ministers must clarify the mess.
"The British constitution is complicated and it is the duty of the prime minister of the day to clarify the position," he said.
The British constitution is not a single document, but a jumble of statutes, conventions and unwritten legal principles that have evolved since Saxon times.
Many argue that the constitution's beauty is its flexibility, that government is free to interpret the law as times change.
But its weakness is a lack of clarity in new situations: Charles is the first heir to the throne to marry in a civil ceremony, rather than in church; and it's the first time that both the royal bride and groom have been divorcees. Such confusion has not only put Blair's government at odds with Charles' office but also sharply divided historians.
Stephen Cretney of Oxford University accused Clarence House of deliberately glossing over the fact that Camilla will automatically be queen unless there is new legislation.
"I think there has been, shall we say, a certain lack of candor from the outset," he told the BBC.
John Adamson of Cambridge University, however, supported the royals' view, and said the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, had misread the constitution. "He has muddled again," he told AP.