The Queen And Government Appointments

I thought I’d mark Theresa May’s Cabinet reshuffle by sharing this document which I recently obtained through Britain’s Freedom of Information Act:

This is Theresa May’s formal submission to the Queen recommending the appointment of her new government after she became Prime Minister in July 2016. The reference to the Prime Minister’s ‘humble duty’ and the use of the third person have been standard in documents such as these since at least the nineteenth century. As usual, the Queen has signified her acceptance of the advice by writing ‘Approved’ along with her initials in the upper right-hand corner.

This document isn’t quite the whole story, however. One of the axioms of constitutional monarchy is that the Sovereign is obliged to accept ministerial advice, yet the Monarch also has the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, and the right to warn. In order to reconcile these seemingly contradictory tenets, a practice has emerged whereby ministers often consult the Sovereign informally before submitting formal advice. This allows the Monarch to voice any concerns they may have, though if ministers insist on offering unpalatable advice, the Sovereign must ultimately accept it.[1] In this case, the practice of submitting informal advice ahead of time also has the advantage of allowing Downing Street to publicly announce appointments sooner than if they had to wait for the Queen to approve a formal submission from the Prime Minister.[2]

At first glance, this document might seem like nothing more than a bit of trivia for Westminster wonks like me, but the fact that I’m able to publish it at all is nothing short of a miracle (I’ll tell the story of how I got the Government to release it in a separate post). Thanks to section 37(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act, information which ‘relates to’ communications with the Sovereign is exempt from disclosure. Since 2010, this exemption has been absolute, meaning the Government is not obliged to consider any public interest arguments in favor of releasing the information. This is supposed to protect the Queen’s political neutrality by providing her with a safe space in which she can discuss issues with ministers, but the Government often interprets this exemption as broadly as it possibly can. Consequently, large amounts of information—including anodyne documents such as this one—won’t be publicly released until well after the Her Majesty’s death. This makes it difficult for the public to understand the monarchy’s role in government, and in the long run, I don’t think this approach is doing the Crown any favors.


[1] For an example of ministers sticking to their guns in the face of royal opposition, see Anne Twomey, The Chameleon Crown: The Queen and Her Australian Governors (Sydney: The Federation Press, 2006) 246-258.

[2] Not every government observes this courtesy. When Tony Blair attempted to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor in 2003, it was alleged that he failed to consult the Queen ahead of time, and Lord Irvine of Lairg’s 2009 submission to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on the Constitution lends credence to this view. Gordon Brown, on the other hand, was said to be much more conscientious about consulting Her Majesty before announcing his ministerial colleagues.

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Do Royal Spouses Have To Be Anglicans?

The news of Prince Harry’s forthcoming nuptials led a reader to ask the following question:

I saw that Meghan Markle is going to be baptized and confirmed in the Church of England before she marries Prince Harry. Is that a legal requirement? Does everyone who marries into the Royal Family have to become an Anglican if they aren’t one already?

As the law stands now, members of the Royal Family are free to marry people of any faith or none at all. It wasn’t always this way, though. Following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Parliament took steps to keep Roman Catholics off the throne. With that goal in mind, the Bill of Rights 1688 and the Act of Settlement 1701 declared that only Protestants could inherit the crown,[1] and marriage to a Catholic would automatically remove a person from the line of succession (the marriage itself would be valid, however).

Despite this prohibition, members of the Royal Family occasionally married Catholics, though none of these individuals had any realistic chance of inheriting the crown. For example, Prince Michael of Kent was removed from the list of succession upon his marriage to the Catholic Baroness Marie Christine von Reibnitz, but he was fifteenth in line for the throne at the time (however, their children were raised in the Church of England, so they were never removed from the line of succession). Interestingly, the prohibition was only applied to people who were Catholics at the time of their marriage. Prince Michael’s sister-in-law, the Duchess of Kent, converted to Catholicism many years after her marriage to the Duke of Kent, so he never lost his succession rights.

Since the coming into force of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, marriage to a Catholic no longer bars a person from inheriting the crown, and people who lost their rights of succession under the former prohibition have had them restored. However, the monarch must still be a Protestant due to their role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

Prince Harry could still marry Meghan Markle even if she were never baptized and confirmed. While many Christian denominations insist that one or both parties to a marriage be baptized, the Church of England does not. Generally speaking, all heterosexual couples[2] have a legal right to marry in their local parish church, provided their marriage would comply with the relevant statutory provisions. It doesn’t matter if they are Anglicans or even Christians. That being said, Meghan Markle is marrying the brother of the future Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and courtiers and ecclesiastics probably figured it would be a bit awkward if she lacked any religious affiliation.


[1] They did not have to be Anglicans, however. For example, George I was Lutheran.

[2] Despite the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, same-sex couples cannot marry in the Church of England.

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What Is The Duchy Of Lancaster?

The Duchy of Lancaster made headlines recently after secret documents revealed that it had invested about £10 million of the Queen’s private money in offshore funds. But what exactly is the Duchy of Lancaster?

The Duchy is a private estate intended to fund the Sovereign’s Privy Purse (i.e., their private income). It is separate from the Sovereign Grant, which pays for the Monarchy’s operating costs. According to the Duchy’s website, the core of the Duchy consists of over 18,000 hectares of land throughout England and Wales. In addition, it owns commercial and residential properties as well as financial investments.

The Duchy of Lancaster was founded in 1351 when Edward III gave Henry Grosmont the title of ‘Duke of Lancaster.’ Edward also made Lancaster a ‘county palatine,’ giving the new duke special powers over his domain. While a county palatine is not an independent state, its ruler enjoys considerable autonomy.[1] For example, the Duke had the power to appoint the Duchy’s judges, as well as its sheriffs, justices of the peace, and other key officials. Initially, these palatine powers were limited to the first Duke of Lancaster, but when the Duchy passed to one of Edward III’s sons, John of Gaunt, he convinced his father to make the grant permanent.

In 1399, John’s son, Henry Bolingbroke, ascended the throne as Henry IV. He declared that the Duchy of Lancaster should descend through Henry’s male heirs, though it was to be held separately from the main Crown Estate. Because of this stipulation, the Duchy was not affected when George III transferred the proceeds from the Crown Estate to the Government in exchange for a parliamentary allowance, and it remains the Sovereign’s personal property to this day.

The Monarch continues to enjoy several residual palatine powers as Duke of Lancaster, though nowadays, the distinction is largely one of form rather than substance.[2] Two key examples of this are the appointment of High Sheriffs and the exercise of ecclesiastical patronage. While the Queen-in-Council appoints High Sheriffs for the rest of England and Wales,[3] the Queen appoints the Duchy’s High Sheriffs during a private audience with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.[4] Similarly, the Queen exercises her ecclesiastical patronage within the Duchy on the advice of the Chancellor rather than the Prime Minister or the Lord Chancellor.

In addition to these ceremonial rights, the Sovereign enjoys a practical benefit in the form of bona vacantia. In the United Kingdom, the Crown receives the assets of people who die intestate and without heirs. For most of the country, the government receives these assets on behalf of the Monarch, but within the Duchy of Lancaster, they go to the Queen directly. However, she gives these proceeds to charity instead of keeping them for herself.

The Queen is not directly involved in the administration of the Duchy. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has overall responsibility for its affairs, though in practice, many functions are delegated to bodies such as the Duchy Council. Even though the Duchy is the Sovereign’s personal property, the Chancellor is a Cabinet minister, although the low workload associated with the position means that the occupant is basically a minister without portfolio.[5] The Chancellor’s ambiguous position is reflected in the fact that they are sworn in at a private audience with the Queen rather than at a Privy Council meeting like other Cabinet ministers. Day-to-day management of the Duchy is handled by the Clerk of the Duchy Council (who is also the Duchy’s CEO), the Chairman of the Duchy Council, and the Chief Financial Officer. They in turn are overseen by the Duchy Council, which is analogous to a corporate board of directors.

Although the Duchy is technically a private estate, it is regulated by Parliament. While the Crown Lands Act 1702 strictly prohibited the alienation of Duchy assets, this stricture has been relaxed by subsequent enactments. The Duchy can now sell land if it’s not deemed convenient to hold it any longer,[6] and the Duchy can lease land as well.[7] Furthermore, the Duchy of Cornwall and Duchy of Lancaster (Accounts) Act 1838 requires the Duchy to file annual reports with the Treasury, and the Treasury must lay these reports before both Houses of Parliament.

While there is nothing in the Paradise Papers to suggest that the Duchy has done anything illegal, the Duchy needs to rethink the way it manages the Queen’s assets. Her financial advisers have shown a lamentable lack of judgment. Offshore investments like these aren’t illegal, but they are controversial, and they present special problems for someone in the Queen’s position. Her financial advisers need to be extra cautious and ensure that there is nothing even vaguely scandalous about her financial dealings. Hopefully, these disclosures will serve as a wakeup call, and they will serve her better in the future.


[1] Other examples of counties palatine in England are the Duchy of Cornwall and County Durham.

[2] Queen Victoria styled herself ‘Duke of Lancaster’ rather than ‘Duchess of Lancaster’ on the grounds that a duchess was merely the consort of a duke. While this was not an official decision, the precedent has held.

[3] The High Sheriff of Cornwall is another special case. Since the Duchy of Cornwall is also a county palatine, its Duke (i.e., the Prince of Wales) appoints the sheriff.

[4] Generally, this audience takes place immediately after the Privy Council meeting where the rest of the High Sheriffs were appointed.

[5] Nowadays, the Chancellor is typically given responsibility for the Cabinet Office, though the office is sometimes given to the Leader of the House of Commons or the Leader of the House of Lords.

[6] Duchy of Lancaster Lands Act 1855.

[7] Duchy of Lancaster Act 1988.

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The Mirror’s Article About Peers’ Expenses Has A Problem

A recent article in the Daily Mirror claims that members of the House of Lords are effectively bilking the taxpayer. The paper highlighted seventeen peers who have received over £400,000 in expenses between them despite failing to speak, sit on a committee or submit a written question. It’s a dramatic claim, but it’s not entirely truthful. In their rush to excoriate the peers, the Mirror has overlooked some crucial details.

Thanks to Public Whip, it’s easy to see a peer’s voting record. It shows that, while the peers named in the article may not be speaking in the chamber, they are voting. For example, the Mirror slammed Lord Kirkhill for receiving the most expense money, but a glance at his record shows that he has voted numerous times. It’s a similar story for the other peers named in the article. Some participate more than others, but they aren’t totally idle.

Attempting to quantify a peer’s worth as a parliamentarian using attendance-related metrics is inherently problematic. For one thing, peers wishing to participate in a debate are expected to stay for “the start, end and greater part of that debate.[1]” That’s bound to limit participation since you can only take part if you can spare a sizable chunk of your day. The extreme size of the House can also be a barrier to participation. This is especially noticeable at Question Time–there just isn’t enough time in the parliamentary day to allow everyone to speak. While voting presents fewer problems for peers, it would be unwise to get too obsessed over how many times each peer goes through the division lobbies. The last thing the House needs is more lobby fodder.

While the Mirror’s article is misleading, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t problems with the Lords expenses regime. Analysis by the Electoral Reform Society has shown that a small subset of peers have claimed expenses even though they haven’t spoken or voted. This isn’t against the rules—any peer who shows up at the Palace of Westminster can claim their £300 attendance allowance—but it’s an ethically dubious thing to do nonetheless. Peers who claim the allowance while spending mere minutes on the parliamentary estate are a blight on the whole House.

But while cases like these get the public’s choler up, finding a solution to the problem is far from straightforward. Without the allowance, only wealthy peers would be able to attend the House. It could be made subject to certain conditions: for example, a peer might have to be present in the Palace for a certain number of hours before they could claim the allowance. But while that might eliminate some of the more egregious cases of allowance abuse, it’s not hard to see how the system could still be gamed. After all, someone could just show up, take a seat somewhere in the Palace, and play games on their phone for however many hours it takes to qualify for their allowance. Insisting that they be physically present in the Lords’ chamber is unlikely to work–it simply isn’t big enough to seat everyone. The House would also have to contend with the fact that not all peers can afford to be full-time legislators since many of them have careers outside Parliament. A revising chamber needs experts, and if you force them to choose between their career and Parliament, the House could end up losing the members it needs the most.

The Electoral Reform Society argues that the answer to all this is to elect the Lords, but that would open up a different can of worms. And as MPs have shown, elected representatives aren’t always icons of probity when it comes to their expenses, either.

Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others. I think something similar could be said about Lords expenses. Maybe some clever person will be able to think up a workable solution, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


[1] See section 4.32 of the Companion to the Standing Orders of the House of Lords. At the very least, peers are expected to attend the opening speeches, the speeches before and after their own, and the ‘winding-up’ speeches at the end of the debate.


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Some Notions About Motions

The Daily Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner included a real howler in his article about the DUP’s rebellion in the Commons last week:

“Because the motions have been tabled by the Opposition they are not legally binding…”

Rayner was referring to the fact that the motions were part of an Opposition Day, which meant Jeremy Corbyn got to set the agenda for the debate. While it’s true that Corbyn’s motions weren’t legally binding, it’s not because he tabled them. Most motions are like greeting cards—they express sentiment without actually doing anything.

Corbyn’s pay cap motion “call[ed] on the Government to end the public sector pay cap in the NHS and give NHS workers a fair pay rise.” Ultimately, this is simply advice, and ministers are free to ignore it. The tuition-fees motion, on the other hand, looked like something that would bind the Government since it purported to revoke the Higher Education (Higher Amount) (England) Regulations 2016 and the Higher Education (Basic Amount) (England) Regulations 2016.

Statutory instruments made under the Higher Education Act 2004 are indeed subject to ‘negative procedure,’ which means MPs can strike them down. But section 5 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946 states that these votes must take place within 40 days of the instrument being laid before Parliament, and the instruments Corbyn wants to revoke were both laid before Parliament in December of last year. That’s not all: a negative procedure motion must take the form of an address to the Queen asking her to annul the instrument(s) in question, but Corbyn’s motion simply declared that the instruments were revoked. Since it didn’t comply with the provisions of the Statutory Instruments Act, the tuition-fee motion is also nothing more than a statement of opinion. Labour has threatened to sue the Government if they don’t revoke the statutory instruments increasing tuition fees, but it’s hard to see how they could possibly prevail in court, so they’d be better off saving their money.

While these motions aren’t legally binding, they still represent a headache for the Government. Ministers allowed them to pass on a voice vote in order to avoid a potentially embarrassing rebellion by the DUP. This stratagem may have allowed them to save face in the short-term, but it also highlights the inherent weakness of the Government’s position and lends credence to the notion that Theresa May is in office but not in power. And in the long run, that is far more dangerous than a defeat on policy.

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Fact-Checking Today I Found Out’s Video On The Queen’s Powers

Some of you may be familiar with Today I Found Out, a popular YouTube channel that makes explanatory videos on a wide range of topics. Today’s video featured a subject near and dear to my heart: the Queen’s powers. I’ve generally been impressed with their work, so I had high hopes for the video. But as it turned out, my optimism was misplaced. While the video got a lot of things right, it made some truly egregious mistakes.

The biggest howler concerns the power to dissolve Parliament. According to the video, if Her Majesty doesn’t like the outcome of an election, she could call for more elections until she got the Parliament she wanted. This simply isn’t true. While it used to be that the Sovereign could dissolve Parliament and call for new elections at any time by virtue of the royal prerogative, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 put the kibosh on that. Since then, the Monarch has had no say in the dissolution of Parliament (not even a formal one). Now, a Parliament automatically dissolves after five years. The Fixed-term Parliaments Act does allow early dissolutions and elections in certain circumstances, but MPs make that call, not the Queen.

Another of the video’s dodgy claims is that Her Majesty can have anyone arrested and seize their property for the Crown. This was certainly the case in the past, but these powers were curtailed as far back as the Middle Ages. For example, a celebrated clause in Magna Carta declares that:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

This same principle would be restated over a century later in the statute 28 Edw. 3 c. 3. Although later monarchs (e.g., the Stuarts) tried to circumvent it, Parliament fought back. In 1640, Parliament passed the Habeas Corpus Act, which declared that the Monarch and the Privy Council could not arbitrarily dispose of people’s property. Furthermore, people who had been imprisoned by order of the Sovereign or the Privy Council were allowed to challenge their detention through the writ of habeas corpus. These provisions remain the law of the land to this day, and they act as a bulwark against the sort of royal despotism that the video envisions.

My final quibble is admittedly rather nitpicky. The video claims that the Queen refused Crown Consent to prevent Parliament from debating a bill that would have required parliamentary authorization for military action in Iraq (it should be noted that Queen’s Consent is not the same as Royal Assent; for a more detailed discussion, see this post). While it’s true that the bill didn’t proceed because Queen’s Consent wasn’t signified, it’s misleading to imply that this was the Queen’s doing.

The bill in question was introduced by a backbench MP, veteran left-winger Tam Dalyell, and therefore it was his responsibility to obtain the Queen’s Consent. However, it seems that Dalyell, a longtime republican, refused to do so on principle. A BBC article from the time quotes him as saying, “I am not going crawling to the Queen. This has nothing to do with her.” The Queen can hardly be held responsible if Dalyell didn’t follow the rules.

Even if the Queen’s Consent were formally refused, it would still be wrong to describe it as a personal act of Her Majesty. Like the vast majority of the Sovereign’s powers, the power to grant Consent is exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister. If Consent were refused, it was Tony Blair’s doing, not the Queen’s.

I like Today I Found Out, but I think they came up short on this one. Looking through their sources for the video, I couldn’t help but notice that they relied heavily on media reports. This was arguably a mistake–even reputable outlets like the BBC, The Guardian often make mistakes when covering constitutional matters. The British constitution is incredibly complex, and it’s riddled with caveats and exceptions. A superficial glance can easily produce misleading generalizations.

Incidentally, if you’d like to read more about the Queen’s powers, you might want to check out this post I wrote a while back. And if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

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Voting Down The Queen’s Speech

With the Conservatives still short of a deal that will guarantee their majority, there is a real chance that Theresa May’s government could be defeated on the Queen’s Speech. A reader named Nathan recently wrote to ask if any examples of governments losing this crucial vote.

First, we need to understand how the Speech from the Throne can bring down a government. It’s customary for MPs to thank the Queen for the speech by presenting her with a ‘Humble Address.’ Invariably, the Opposition tries to amend the address by inserting language that deprecates the government and its policies. Usually, this is nothing more than political theatre, as a government with a majority can easily vote down these amendments. But a minority government without a confidence and supply agreement could be vulnerable to defeat. If the address is amended in such a way that it condemns the incumbent government, that would be tantamount to a vote of no confidence.

The last Prime Minister to suffer the indignity of losing the vote on the Speech from the Throne was Stanley Baldwin in 1924, and there are some striking similarities between his situation and the one facing Theresa May. Baldwin also became Prime Minister following the unexpected resignation of his predecessor, and although he had a majority, he called a snap election in December 1923 in order to win a stronger mandate for his approach to a controversial issue (in his case, it was tariff reform).

Like May, Baldwin ended up losing his majority, though the Tories were still the largest party in the Commons. This prompted him to try to carry on as a minority government. He went to Parliament in January 1924 with a King’s Speech, but Labour tabled an amendment stating that the House had no confidence in the King’s present advisers, and the Liberals helped ensure its adoption. Baldwin promptly resigned, and Labour’s Ramsay MacDonald was allowed to form his own minority government with the support of the Liberals, though it only lasted eleven months and a further election returned Baldwin to Downing Street before the year’s end.

Although an amendment to the Humble Address has traditionally been enough to bring down a government, the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 has muddied the waters somewhat. Section 2(4) of the Act specifies the form of a motion of no confidence (“That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government”), and amending the Humble Address might not comply with that provision. In theory, that means that any vote on the Queen’s Speech would be purely symbolic, and if Labour actually wanted to bring down the Government, they would have to table another motion using the words found in the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

However, if Labour successfully amended the address, it would be very hard for Theresa May to continue in office. At that point, I suspect she would probably resign and advise the Queen to ask Jeremy Corbyn to form a government. She could also ask the House to authorize another snap election, though she would need the support of a substantial number of non-Tory MPs to get it passed.

If Corbyn did form a government, he would not need to present a Queen’s Speech of his own. Constitutionally speaking, it would be redundant. The Queen has opened Parliament; as long as it isn’t prorogued, there is no need for a further speech. When Ramsay MacDonald took over in 1924, he simply made his own statement outlining the new government’s priorities, and Corbyn would probably follow his precedent. He isn’t exactly a fervent monarchist, so I can’t see him wanting any more royal pomp and circumstance than is absolutely necessary.

Corbyn’s government would almost certainly face a vote of confidence–he might even table it himself in a bid to establish his right to govern. If he were defeated, MPs would have little choice but to vote for an early election. While the Fixed-term Parliaments Act establishes a 14-day window after a no confidence vote in which others can try to form a government, this would be pointless if both the Tories and Labour have already lost the confidence of the Commons.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn Didn’t Need To Bow To The Queen

Several readers have asked me about Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to bow to the Queen during the State Opening of Parliament. Some on social media have accused him of showing a lack of respect for Her Majesty, while others have lauded him for taking a stand against the monarchy.

The truth is much less exciting. Corbyn was simply following protocol. Traditionally, the Speaker, the Clerk, and the Serjeant-at-Arms are the only people from the Commons who bow. I suspect this is because they are in the front row and therefore more visible to the Queen–if Her Majesty can’t see you bow, the gesture becomes rather pointless. Similarly, the judges are usually the only ones in the House of Lords who bow since they’re sitting right in front of the Throne. Now it’s not unheard of for MPs to get caught up in the moment and bow even though it’s not necessary (e.g., Theresa May). But Corbyn can hardly be faulted for following protocol.

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Why Did Theresa May Cancel The 2018 Queen’s Speech?

The Queen’s diary just got a bit lighter. The Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, has announced that there will be no Speech from the Throne next year.

A Parliament is traditionally divided into several sessions, each of which begins with a Queen’s Speech and ends with prorogation. For many years, sessions have typically lasted for a year, but since the timing is decided by the Crown, they can run longer or shorter. For example, the first session of the 2010-15 Parliament ran from 2010 until 2012, with no Queen’s Speech in 2011. While unusual, it’s not constitutionally improper. The Sovereign is only required to address Parliament at the beginning of a session.

Leadsom claims that a longer session will give Parliament more time to deal with the mountain of legislation that Brexit is likely to create. When Parliament is prorogued at the end of a session, any bills that have not yet received Royal Assent lapse. While they can be reintroduced in the following session, they must start over at the beginning of the parliamentary process. In recent years, Parliament has allowed certain bills to be ‘carried over’ from one session to another, but this process is not automatic, and carry-over must be agreed on a case-by-case basis. By delaying prorogation, they avoid a slew of potentially difficult votes.

But the Government could be motivated by another factor. The vote on the Address-in-Reply to the Queen’s Speech has traditionally been tantamount to a vote of confidence in the Government. With no guaranteed majority and an emboldened Opposition, the Queen’s Speeches will be a major headache for the Government, so it’s not hard to see why they’d be keen to put it off. They could even extend the session for the full five years of the Parliament, in which case there wouldn’t be another Queen’s Speech until after the next election. But that would probably be a step too far. Brexit should be settled by 2019, so the Government should find it easier to proceed with a Queen’s Speech.

Of course, all this assumes that the Conservatives are still in power in 2018. If there were to be another election next year, the Queen would have to open the next Parliament. Given Theresa May’s tenuous grip on power, the Queen might have to address Parliament in 2018 after all.


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Queen’s Speech To Be Delayed…Maybe

Conflicting reports in the media have suggested that the Queen’s Speech might not take place on June 19 as originally planned (while the Daily Telegraph made the delay seem like a certainty, the BBC suggests that the issue is still undecided). Bizarrely, a Downing Street spokesperson has claimed that the delay is necessary in part because it will take several days for the ink to dry on the special goatskin parchment that is used for the speech.

This excuse is, quite frankly, laughable. Due to the unexpected nature of this election, it’s already been established that the forthcoming State Opening of Parliament will be a less formal affair: The Queen will travel to the Palace of Westminster by car rather than carriage, and she’ll wear ordinary day dress with a hat instead of the Imperial State Crown and her parliamentary robe. Those are both highly visible elements of the ceremony, yet they have been dispensed with for the moment out of necessity. Surely something as obscure as the use of parchment for the Gracious Speech could be set aside as well. The idea might even find favor with Her Majesty, given that a delayed State Opening would likely clash with Royal Ascot!

I suspect the real reason for the delay is that the Government has no idea what to put in the Queen’s Speech. The Conservative manifesto won’t be much help, as rumor has it they’re planning to jettison large portions of it. They’re also not helped by the fact that the promised deal with the Democratic Unionist Party has yet to materialize. To top it off, they’ll need to particularly sensitive to the feelings of the backbenches–with such a tiny majority, they can’t afford any rebellions.

There’s nothing wrong with delaying the Queen’s Speech. But it would have been far better for the Government to admit that they need more time and leave it at that instead of nattering on about parchment. That makes them seem laughably hidebound, and it also feeds the narrative that Theresa May is in office but not in power. No Prime Minister wants to be perceived that way, but it’s particularly bad when you’ve burned up most of your political capital on a disastrous election. If May is going to survive, she can’t afford these kind of self-inflicted wounds.



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