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Constitutional status of Cornwall
The constitutional status of Cornwall, in the southwest of Great Britain, is the subject of ongoing debate.
At present, the Parliament and Government of the UK, as well as Cornwall County Council , treat Cornwall as an administrative and ceremonial county of England. Laws passed for England are presumed to take effect (and are enforced) in Cornwall. Cornwall pays taxes to the British Exchequer and elects MPs to the UK Parliament.
Cornish nationalists and others maintain that Cornwall is legally entitled to greater autonomy. They note that the United Kingdom is not a homogenous unitary state, but is instead composed of several Home Nations. Cornish nationalists who assert that Cornwall is, or ought to be, separate from England, do not necessarily mean to advocate separation from the United Kingdom, but merely Cornwall's recognition as a fifth 'home nation'. They also cite laws and constitutional peculiarities related to the Duchy of Cornwall that seems to indicate that the territory of Cornwall is not simply an English county.
Traditional status and institutions
Detailed article: Duchy of Cornwall
Many Cornish nationalists, including Cornish Solidarity and the Stannary Parliament, argue that Cornwall has de jure a status apart as a sovereign Duchy extraterritorial to England. A commonly cited basis for this argument is an 1856 court case in which Sir George Harrison successfully argued that the Duchy enjoyed the rights and prerogatives of a County palatine and that the Duke has rights over the whole territory of Cornwall befitting a King.
In addition in 1969-71 the Kilbrandon Report into the British constitution recommends that, when referring to Cornwall - official sources should cite the Duchy not the County. This was suggested in recognition of its constitutional position.
Proponents of this point of view cite certain ceremonial customs in which the Duke of Cornwall (normally the same person as the Prince of Wales) takes the place of the sovereign. The High Sheriff of Cornwall is appointed by the Duke, not the monarch, in contrast to the other counties of England and Wales. The Duke has the right to the estates of all those who die without heirs (intestate) in the whole of Cornwall, outside of Cornwall such estates go to the Crown. This is known as Bona Vacantia and applies to treasure trove as well. A sturgeon caught elsewhere in Britain is ceremonially offered to the monarch, while in Cornwall it is offered to the Duke. The Duke has right of wreck on all ships wrecked on Cornish shores, but in most of England this is the right of the Crown. Additionally, unlike a truly private estate the Duke does not have to pay income tax on Duchy profits including profits from the above rights over the territory of Cornwall. The Duchy is a Crown body (a body of governance) and chooses to pay what are described as voluntary "tax" contributions. This is due in large part to the Duchy having its own Exchequer and therefore not being integrated into that of the Crown.
Furthermore, pre-Tudor laws were typically designated to take effect in Anglia et Cornubia (that is, in England and Cornwall), implying that Cornwall was not at that time considered to be part of England. Additionally many maps of the isles prior to the 18th century showed Cornwall (Cornubia / Cornwallia) as a nation on a par with Wales, most notably Gerardus Mercator (1512).
Detailed article: Stannary Courts and Parliaments
Since 1974, a revived Cornish Stannary Parliament has sought to reclaim the ancient right of Cornish tin-miners' assemblies to veto legislation from Westminster. In 1977 the Plaid Cymru MP Dafydd Wigley in Parliament asked the Attorney General for England and Wales if he would provide the date upon which enactments of the Charter of Pardon were rescinded. The reply, received on 14th May 1977, stated that a Stannator's right to veto Westminster legislation had never been formally withdrawn.
Attempted recognition of new status
In contrast to the arguments that Cornwall is already de jure autonomous, thanks to the Duchy and Stannary parliament, various ongoing political movements are seeking to change Cornwall's constitutional status. Mebyon Kernow, for example, has for many years sought for Cornwall the position of a first-order (NUTS 1) EU region, which would put Cornwall on the same statistical level as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Regions of England.
In the same vein, the Cornish Constitutional Convention – composed of many political groups in Cornwall (including Mebyon Kernow) – gathered about 50,000 signatures in 2000 on a petition to create a Cornish Assembly resembling the Welsh National Assembly. The petition was undertaken in the context of an ongoing debate on whether to devolve power to the English regions, of which Cornwall is currently part of the South West.
A distinct culture/ethnicity?
Many Cornish nationalists will, in addition to making the legal or constitutional arguments mentioned above, stress that the Cornish are a distinct ethnic group, that people in Cornwall typically refer to 'England' as beginning east of the Tamar, and that there is a Cornish language. For further information on these topics, see Cornwall, Cornish nationalism, Cornish language, etc.
English shire county status
Many people reject all claims that Cornwall is, or ought to be, distinct from England. While recognising that there are local peculiarisms, they point out that Yorkshire, Kent, and Cheshire (for example) also have local customs and identities that do not seem to undermine their essential Englishness. The legal claims concerning the Duchy, they argue, are without merit except as relics of mediaeval feudalism, and they contend that Stannary law applied not to Cornwall as a 'nation', but merely to the guild of tin miners. Rather, they argue that Cornwall has been not only in English possession, but part of England itself, either since Athelstan conquered it in 936, since the administrative centralisation of the Tudor dynasty, or since the creation of Cornwall County Council in 1888. Finally, they agree with representatives of the Duchy itself that the Duchy is, in essence, a real estate company that serves to raise income for the Prince of Wales. They compare the situation of the Duchy of Cornwall with that of the Duchy of Lancaster, which has similar rights in Lancashire, which is indisputibly part of England.
The proponents of such perspectives include not only Unionists, but most branches and agencies of government.
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