The decision by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to ‘step back’ from being senior royals has raised more questions than it has given answers. And among them are constitutional matters which, in an ageing monarchy, are beginning to take on a pressing need.
Yes, we’re talking regencies. At the moment, there are two possible scenarios for someone else ruling on behalf of the monarch. The first is if the Queen is deemed to be unable to continue to rule and the second is in the event of Prince George succeeding to the throne before he is eighteen. In the first instance, the Regency would pass to the Prince of Wales. The second scenario, Prince George becoming Monarch before the age of 18, is where the issue lies now that Harry has decided he is no longer a senior royal.
In 1937, a new Regency Act was passed as King George VI’s reign got under way. His heiress, Elizabeth, was just ten and legislation was drawn up to cover who would rule for her should she succeed before she turned 18. However, while previous Regency Acts had focused on the situation in question, this one set out to make general provisions that would govern all future scenarios. And that is where Harry comes in.
The Act of 1937 states that should the throne pass to someone under the age of eighteen then the Regent will be the next person in the line of succession aged 21 or over. And right now, should Prince George find himself on the throne before the end of July 2013, that would be Harry.
There is also the issue of Counsellors of State to consider. This role is given to senior members of the Royal Family and allows the Queen to delegate some of her powers when she is out of the UK or not able to discharge them fully herself on a temporary basis. Two are usually appointed by letters patent when needed and those letters patent can be revoked at any time. These Counsellors can exercise many of the Monarch’s functions including attending Privy Council meetings and receiving Letters of Credence from new ambassadors.
The role belongs to the Monarch’s consort and the four most senior people in the line of succession. To take on the role, they must be over the age of 21, British subjects and living in the UK. The current list is the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of York.
Now that the Duke of Sussex has announced he is no longer a senior royal and that he intends to spend more time in North America as he and his wife aim to become financially independent (albeit with a rather large chunk of Duchy of Cornwall funding according to their own website), questions are being raised as to whether Harry would or could fulfil either of these two, important constitutional roles.