As Head of State, Queen Elizabeth is required by the Constitution to provide royal assent to a variety of official decisions. Although this royal assent is mostly symbolic nowadays, she still has to sign bills passing through Parliament or green light the appointment of High Court judges, among other things.
Following her recent health scare, Buckingham Palace has to consider a Plan B if the monarch is unable to assume this crucial function.
According to Protocol, if the Queen is too ill to read and understand the necessary papers and sign her consent, the job would fall to the Counsellors.
The “Counsellors of State” are four official members of the royal family who are awarded by the crown the right to momentarily take over from the Queen if she is unable to perform her duties because she is abroad or unwell.
Two Counsellors of State are required to act together in a “quorum” to perform crucial functions.
Without Counsellors’ royal assent, the Government would theoretically be incapacitated as any new bill would await assent from the Crown.
The four Counsellors are usually the monarch’s spouse followed by next in line to the throne and at least over the age of 18.
Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Andrew and Prince Harry are therefore the current Counsellors.
However, as Andrew and Harry have decided to step down from royal duties, this leaves only Charles and William.
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“It could certainly make the day-to-day running of Government much more tricky.
“The Counsellors of State are a Plan B from a constitutional point of view, but what happens when Plan B isn’t quite ideal?
“The Queen may look to add the Duchess of Cornwall, who would become a Counsellor of State when Charles is King anyway.
“Or they could go down the line to Princesses Beatrice or Eugenie, or add more members of the family, like Princess Anne or Prince Edward to the list.”
While Camilla is not in the direct line to the throne, the Queen could make her a Counsellor and she would automatically become one when Charles is King.
This would mean she could have the power to give royal assent or dissolve a government, among others.
In fact, during the Queen and Prince Philip’s tour of New Zealand in 1974, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, both Counsellors of State, enacted the Queen’s wishes to dissolve Ted Heath’s Government.
It is thought that the last time the Sovereign’s power was passed to the Counsellors of State was in 2015 when the Queen went to Malta with Prince Philip.
“Most of the functions of the Head of State can be devolved,” says Vernon Bogdanor, the author of Monarchy And The Constitution and professor of government at King’s College London.
“It is not, for example, constitutionally necessary for the Queen to attend the State Opening of Parliament.”
The Fort News