Here's one angle on it. The Executive (& Project Board) has responsibility to the rest of the business for the project deliverables, and to ensure that they deliver value. The Project Manager has responsibility for execution of the project, as it is approved by the Project Board. The Project Manager may identify possible changes to scope, or question whether the Business Case still justifies pursuing the project: but he cannot make a decision to significantly alter the project scope, or to stop the project -- the Executive (& Project Board) need to be the ones to make those calls.
Combining the two roles removes a check and introduces the possibility of the Project Manager making decisions which suit him/herself and the project team but do not deliver value to the Organisation / Customer.