Her Majesty The Queen has given Royal Assent to the bill authorising a British exit from the European Union. The Queen’s signature allows Prime Minister Theresa May to formally start the process of leaving the EU. The European Union Notification of Withdrawal Bill was accepted by MPs and the House of Lords on Monday, and The Queen had been expected to sign the Bill on Tuesday. There is speculation that Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, caused such a media furore by calling for a second independence referendum that The Queen postponed the law until today.
Royal Assent is required to make legislation in the United Kingdom law and The Queen has the power to make and repeal laws. Laws usually originate from the Houses of Parliament, either the Commons or the Lords, and experience a lengthy process of debate and review. Once the legislation has been passed by both houses of Parliament, it is then sent to The Queen in Her daily red boxes of state papers. There can be a slight delay here as Her Majesty has a great deal of papers to work through. It remains the case, however, that no bill can become law without The Queen’s approval.
Royal Assent, granted after a bill has been passed by Peers and MPs, is different from Queen’s Consent. Queen’s Consent is required for members of Parliament to debate a bill and has to be granted on issues which affect interests of The Crown. The Queen has been asked to grant permission for a whole multitude of debates, covering everything from higher education, civil partnerships and identity cards to animal welfare and pensions.
In at least three cases since 1990, The Queen has refused Consent. This happened in 1999, when The Queen refused to allow plans to transfer command of the Armed Forces to the Prime Minister to be discussed in Parliament. The Bill would have effectively meant that The Queen would no longer be Commander-in-Chief. She has also jettisoned bills referring to House of Lords reform and the removal of Crown immunity. Some critics of the monarchy argue that The Queen should not have such a powerful veto, but it is generally accepted that Her Majesty acts in the best interests of the kingdom.