Prince William, the couple's 10- year-old son, would be preferred for the succession by some Tories to the prospect of a King and Queen leading separate lives.
The Cabinet was briefed by Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, and Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, that there was no constitutional reason why the Princess should not become Queen. The Prime Minister's office insisted there were no constitutional implications caused by the separation of the couple, due to perform a public engagement together today, attending a banquet on the royal yacht Britannia for EC summiteers at Edinburgh.
But Tory MPs warned that public opinion might not accept a separated King and Queen. Dame Jill Knight, a member of the executive of the 1922 Committee, said: 'We have another prospective King coming along. Many people say even if we skip the Prince and Princess of Wales, we have another possible King in William . . The overwhelming majority of the British people want the monarchy to continue. We shall have to wait and see whether they are prepared to accept a King and Queen who are separated or whether they would prefer young King William in due course.'
Dame Jill said a 'discernible frisson of concern' ran through the Commons when the Prime Minister said there was no constitutional reason why the Princess of Wales, although separated, should not become Queen. She said the constitutional reason was rather different from what the public, and some of her colleagues, would feel about a separated King and Queen.
David Howell, another respected Tory backbencher, underlined doubts about whether the Prince and Princess of Wales could acceed to the throne. He told BBC radio: 'We are in a sort of limbo. These two unhappy people who have done more for the welfare of this nation than most of their critics put together are now in a state of separation. But where does that lead to? It's impossible to imagine a throne shared by two people . . . in a separated state.'
Merlyn Rees, the former Labour Home Secretary and a trustee of the trust to celebrate the Queen's 40th anniversary on the throne, said the Royal Family was moving 'very fast' to the Scandinavian style of a more simplified monarchy.
Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, said there was no reason in law why the separation meant that both halves of the marriage could not become King and Queen. But he added: 'I think people would regard it as a very odd arrangement in practice.'
He called for a full debate in Parliament next year 'on the future of the constitution and the inter-related issues of the succession, of entitlement to accede to the throne and the crown, the disestablishment, and the functions of the head of state and head of the Church'.
Jonathon Porritt, former director of Friends of the Earth and an adviser to the Prince, said: 'Prince Charles will certainly be feeling a new sense of confidence and optimism about the way in which he can participate in these debates at a time when people are looking for guidance, vision and leadership . . . We are not getting a lot of those qualities from people in the political process.'
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