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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

We the People: A brief comparison of American and British government, as a new British prime minister is selected

Boris Johnson, of the Conservative Party, is shown here during a virtual news conference on Dec. 19, 2020, inside 10 Downing Street in central London.  (TOBY MELVILLE/POOL/AFP)
By Sidiq Moltafet The Spokesman-Review

Each week, The Spokesman-Review examines one question from the Naturalization Test immigrants must pass to become United States citizens.

Today’s question: Name the three branches of government.

On July 7, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his resignation. His fall came after more than 50 members of Parliament stepped down from their positions.

The resignation has caused a fierce political run for a new prime minister. The British parliamentary system is a democracy, and the prime minister is not directly elected by the people, like in the United States. Instead, the leader of the party elected by the people takes the prime minister’s seat at the head of Parliament.

With Johnson’s midterm resignation, the ruling party, currently the Conservative Party, must elect its own leader to replace him and that person will then take the prime minister’s seat until a new election is called.

Citizens can still vote for a prime minister if they choose to join the party, upon a fee of 25 British pounds (about $30). There are currently more than 300,000 members of the Conservative Party, meaning almost 0.3% of the British population gets a vote for the new prime minister.

The United States of America runs on an electoral college system. When people cast their vote, they are choosing electors. These electors then vote for the president almost always based on the majority vote of the state they represent.

“The Founding Fathers did not think that everyday Americans could vote for their own president,’’ said Michael Treleaven, political science professor at Gonzaga University.

Similar to the United States, Britain is built on three branches of power, the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judicial branch. The difference lies in the authority and duty that each branch carries out.

“The power dynamic between branches creates checks and balances, which allows one sole branch to take all the power,” Treleaven said.

The Legislative Branch

In the United States, the legislative branch consists of Congress, made up of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The House of Representatives is considered the lower house because Americans elect their representative every two years while the Senate is the upper house because senators get elected every six years.

The House of Representatives can bring charges against the president and has the sole power of impeachment.

It takes a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict on impeachment charges. There haven’t been any convictions although one such vote was close. President Andrew Johnson was one vote shy of being convicted and tossed from office in 1868 .

In the United States, Congress also has the sole power to take money from the U.S. Treasury – this gives Congress the power of the purse.

In the United Kingdom, the legislative branch consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords, which is known as Parliament.

Parliament is the supreme body. This authority gives the Parliament all control over the political bodies in the United Kingdom.

In addition, the Parliament can create and end any law.

The Executive Branch

In The United States, the executive branch consists of the president and the cabinet. Under the Constitution, the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces. This means a civilian, not a member of the military, controls the military, as the Founding Fathers intended as a check to ensure the military does not go against the will of the people.

The president also has the power to negotiate treaties with foreign governments and appoint ambassadors, federal judges and cabinet. But this power is limited because any appointee or negotiated treaty must be approved by Senate.

In the United Kingdom, the executive branch consists of the prime minister and government ministries.

The prime minister has the duty of overseeing governmental policy and decisions. In addition, the prime minister can also declare war on behalf of the Crown.

The Judicial Branch

In the United States and the United Kingdom, the Judicial Branch is the only branch that serves similar duties.

The judicial branch in both countries consists of federal courts, state courts and local courts. The highest court of law in both countries is called the Supreme Court.

“The judiciary branch reviews violations of the law and is supposed to provide justice,” said Veta Schlimgen, an associate professor of history at Gonzaga University.

In the United States, there are nine Supreme Court justices while in the U.K. there are 12.

“Supreme Court checks to ensure that laws Congress passed fit within the framework of the Constitution,” Schlimgen said.

Johnson is expected to formally step down as prime minister when a newly elected leader is confirmed.