You know autumn is truly upon us when the Queen returns from her summer break in Balmoral. It’s usually around the start of October but it is always at Her Majesty’s pace. However, as the Supreme Court rules that the Prime Minister lied to the Monarch when he asked Elizabeth II to prorogue parliament in August, is it time for the Queen to head back to London straight away as one of the major constitutional crises of her reign unfolds?
Let’s be clear, this mess is not of Her Majesty’s making. Soon after the plans to halt Westminster activity went through, senior royal experts underlined how dissatisfied the Queen and her officials were with the constant references to her proroguing parliament. Technically, she did but there was never any question over it happening. Like all modern monarchs she acts on the advice of her Prime Minister. The Queen did what British democracy demanded of her then – she listened and she acted on the advice. Now the highest court in the land has said that advice was unlawful.
No one, right now, knows what happens next. Parliament, says the Supreme Court, was never prorogued so even though its corridors and chambers have been empty for weeks, its business has technically never stopped. Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has said he won’t step aside although the clamour for his resignation grows stronger by the second. The Commons may be recalled at any second or MPs may just decide to go back to work. Right now, the UK electorate doesn’t know how it is governed or by whom. And that’s where Balmoral comes into it.
For the Queen to be one step removed from her people at a time of such great uncertainty could well raise questions for Her Majesty. Modern technology means conversations, documents and demands are never more than a mouse click away but the action is happening in London. As voices shout from all sides about what should happen next, the Queen’s role as a calm figurehead amidst the clamour becomes more important. And that role is perhaps best performed in her capital rather than in her Scottish retreat.
It also should be borne in mind that if Boris Johnson does go, and that’s a considerable if on the morning of September 24th as he refuses to stand aside, the Queen will be called upon to select a new Prime Minister. For the appointment of this most important minister is down to her alone. Of course, advice is given and taken. But ultimately, Her Majesty appoints. Given the circumstances, being in London when negotiations over forming a government may be imminent seems like the way to go.
Buckingham Palace has so far refused to comment on the judgement or its consequences. But as summer is washed away in a torrent of rain, the historic acts of August are disappearing into the September mists. And that, this year, seems to be the signal for the royal summer to end. The Royal Standard may be flying above Buckingham Palace far sooner than we anticipated.