The Queen Thinks of Brexit, so Tell Us More

The United Kingdom has been roiling over whether to leave the European Union — Brexit — and, if so, on what terms, terms to which the E.U. would have to agree, unless the U.K. leaves without an agreement, and that’s predicted to be disastrous. The U.K. is ruled by Crown and Parliament and we have a pretty good idea of what the Parliament thinks, the Prime Minister having been negotiating with the E.U. and she and Members of Parliament having been outspoken.

But what does the Crown think? The Crown is personified by the Queen and doubtless many important people in the U.K. turn to her for guidance and support, yet she says little that means much in public. Given her legal power and the responsibilities that come with having the power, she could hardly have no opinion. And she has spoken. And Brexit matters to the United States, and so the Queen’s views are news.

Crown’s Legal Power

The monarch has vast legal power. By law, she can appoint as Prime Minister not only the head of the political party that won the election, but anyone at all and, if she wishes, no one, leaving the office vacant.1 Politically, her choice is constrained to one, but legally it’s not.

She is the commander-in-chief2 and not just as a decorative formality. One U.S. journalist reported that major intelligence coups are reported to her before they are reported to the Prime Minister.3

She can determine who gets a passport.4 I interpret that to mean that she can decide who can be a national of the U.K. and who can be denied the nationality.

She has a legislative veto.5 If the U.S. President vetoes a bill, the U.S. Congress can override it and turn the bill into law despite the President’s objections,6 but the U.K. Queen’s veto is final and no override is available to anyone else.7

She has asserted a right to appoint additional members to the House of Lords.8 The House of Lords is one of the two Houses of Parliament and is part of the legislative process for enacting bills into law.9 At one point, the Queen wanted a bill passed that the House of Lords did not want to pass. The members of the House of Lords are appointed. She put out word that she could appoint more. The House of Lords passed the bill without her appointing more.10 (Possibly, this legal power has been limited since .11)

Besides appointing the Prime Minister, she can appoint more ministers. She can appoint 120 ministers.12 (I don’t remember if the total is 120 or 121 including the Prime Minister, but it’s at least 120.)

A minister she appoints may normally serve Parliament but might perform a particular task under the Crown. If the minister is performing a task under the Crown and a court gives the minister an order, the minister is permitted to ignore the court order.13

The Parliament is not without vital power. For example, taxes are a Parliamentary responsibility.14 But neither is the Crown without vital power.

Hiding the Queen’s Power

It is said, and widely believed in England, that the monarch is limited to consulting, encouraging, and warning, primarily to the Prime Minister, who presumably has the decision-making power.15 Such a limit on the monarch is a myth, likely entertaining and reassuring for many, and probably an aspiration for many, but still only a myth.

The Queen rarely exercises the range of her legal powers. Centuries have expired without a single veto.16

She has minor powers, maybe many of them. If anyone catches a sturgeon in English waters, it must be offered to the monarch.17

The Queen is less vocal about what powers she has than is, say, the President, who may give a speech about considering using the “veto pen”.18 Many people who are associated with any of the three branches of the U.S. government advocate for the powers each branch has and openly discuss and advocate for their application to various current situations. The Queen is generally much quieter about that, the people closely associated with her even quieter.

The two nations have different histories. Both had civil wars, but the U.S. waged a war against a far-away colonizer across an ocean and we tend not to think of it as a civil war, although it was one at the start, but as an international war, at least as it acquired other nations’ participation.19 England had a war between two sides a few centuries ago that was settled by power being allocated between Parliament and the Crown leading to republicanism.20 The reaction of the Queen, and perhaps of most of the monarchs between, has been to tread gingerly on the will of the polity, such as in the appointing of a Prime Minister to coincide with who won the election and in generally not voicing royal opinions on matters within Parliamentary purview.

The Crown Talks

Yet voice she has.

She was reported to have said at dinners, “[g]ive me three good reasons why Britain should be part of Europe.”21 I don’t know much about uniquely British idioms, but that kind of statement if spoken in the U.S. would mean that the speaker is so highly skeptical that convincing them to change their mind is unlikely. Thus, she appears to have spoken in opposition.

More recently, she made a more subtle but more official statement favoring the prospects for bilateral trade with the Netherlands.22 While that could be no more than an acknowledgment of a political inevitability, it could be a royal leaning toward bilateralism as a replacement for being in the E.U.

People who have power tend not to get ignored. The monarch has power. So do the immediate associates of the monarch. So do many people in the nation. They tend to talk with each other. The conversations are often two-way conversations.

It is likely that the offices of the Crown have heard much from, and spoken with, various members of the polity and of the business community, over many years and recently. It is likely that the Crown takes those views into consideration in forming its own. The days when the Crown would order someone decapitated over a disagreement are long past. Now, perhaps, a disagreeable person is no longer invited to dine in a castle with royalty, but they still live to talk with other leaders.

Royal Notice

Democracy is vital, and I don’t think there should be a monarchy, even in a power-sharing arrangement. Nonetheless, there is a monarchy with which power is shared. The monarch has views. Some of the views are very important to public policy.

Whatever Scotland, Wales, and the two parts of Ireland think of the monarchy, they have strong views on Brexit.

Why is there not more public news reporting of the stands and uncertainties of the Crown on many issues, including Brexit and its potential consequences? Surely information is available to reporters who ask and editors who can leave content uncut. While the Queen’s immediate associates are likely to be mum when she wants that, her less-immediate associates would be more likely to reveal clues. While disinformation could be mixed in, reporters can gain experience with sources and discover reportable leanings, some of which could be quotable and attributable.

If the views of the Crown should not be reported but are influential, does that substantive secrecy not force a dangerous reliance on monarchs always being benign? Should not an inherited monarchy be replaced by an elected executive?