The Queen And The European Union

There’s been some fuss in the United Kingdom today over The Sun‘s claim that the Queen has expressed Euroskeptic views on at least two occasions, including a 2011 lunch with Nick Clegg at Windsor Castle and a meeting with MPs at Buckingham Palace.

Like many tabloid claims, this one needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. In 2011, Clegg was Deputy Prime Minister and Lord President of the Council, and the latter office brought him into regular contact with Her Majesty. Although meetings of the Privy Council are usually held in the late afternoon or early evening, the Court Circular records a Council meeting at Windsor Castle at 12:40 pm on April 7, 2011. The Queen has been known to invite Privy Counsellors to have lunch with her before or after an early afternoon meeting.

It’s certainly plausible that the conversation might have turned to Europe, though The Sun‘s characterization of the her demeanor in these exchanges seems rather fanciful (the paper claims she gave Clegg a “reprimand” and excoriated the EU with “venom and emotion” when speaking with MPs). But it is a major breach of etiquette and constitutional convention for a former Minister to reveal the details of a conversation with Her Majesty to the press. Discussions between the Queen and her Ministers are supposed to be treated with the utmost confidence by both parties, and that rule applies even after the Minister leaves office (Tony Blair’s disclosure in his autobiography of some of the things the Queen said to him in the aftermath of Diana’s death was highly unusual). For what it’s worth, all of the Ministers present at the April 7 Privy Council meeting have denied the accuracy of The Sun‘s story.

Even if The Sun is telling the truth, the Queen has done nothing wrong. Contrary to popular belief, she isn’t forbidden from discussing political matters with her Ministers. If she has views on the European Union, she has a right and a duty to share them with her Government. However, Her Majesty can’t go public with her views unless advised to do so by her Ministers.

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