Extraordinary times and extraordinary questions. For much of her 67 year reign, the Queen has done what every monarch in recent times has done and remained removed from politics. But in the past month, Her Majesty has been drawn into a maelstrom that has ended with the highest court in the UK ruling that her Prime Minister gave her unlawful advice when he told her to prorogue parliament as the sun set on summer.
Make no mistake, the Queen has no choice in August but to follow his advice. To have done otherwise would have been an extreme political decision on her part and no other person in her place would have done differently. However, all that may well now change. Let’s look again at the relationship between Monarch and Prime Minister.
The official website of the Royal Family states clearly that ” The Queen gives a weekly audience to the Prime Minister at which she has a right and a duty to express her views on Government matters….having expressed her views, The Queen abides by the advice of her ministers”.
The Queen is one of the most experienced statespeople in the world but it is clear that even if she had advised against prorogation, she was duty bound to do as her ministers asked her. It’s also worth noting the other important part of this statement – the weekly audience. It’s not clear how or when the Prime Minister first mooted prorogation with the Queen but once aware of his plans, Her Majesty’s role – like that of anyone else holding the position of constitutional monarch – was to advise and then agree to his request.
However, for the first time that anyone can remember, a court has ruled that the plans were illegal. And that casts a shadow over the relationship between Queen and Prime Minister. Firstly, given that a court has now said the current incumbent of Number Ten lied to the Queen, can she trust his advice further? Secondly, if parliament sits again – and right now no one knows if that will happen – then who will be Prime Minister.
Boris Johnson has indicated he won’t stand down. But the Royal Family website states that appointment of the Prime Minister is up to the Queen and the ” main requirement is to find someone who can command the confidence of the House of Commons”. Given the divisions that already existed, the lack of a parliamentary majority by the Conservative Party led by Mr Johnson and the seismic impact of today’s Supreme Court ruling, that confidence is surely in question.
So what can the Queen do if her parliament does come back into its chambers as many expect it to do given that the Supreme Court said prorogation never happened at all? Let’s turn once more to the official words from the website which state ”there could still be exceptional circumstances when The Queen might need to exercise discretion to ensure that her Government is carried on”.
That discretion could well come into play in coming days.