The Queen needs to rest. Is there a way that she can do that, though, without breaking the solemn oath she made at her coronation in 1953? The lifelong vows still bind her; the British monarchy is a strictly hereditary institution; and abdication is anathema – she still remembers what it did to her family and the nation when Edward VIII did in 1936. Is there a way to reconcile things?
The answer is yes – a regency. It would mean that Prince of Wales would be declared prince regent, and be able to exercise all the duties of the monarch – including the few remaining constructional prerogatives – legally, but also that the Queen need not abdicate, and would still retain her title, status and position. She would be Queen in name only – Quino – and could, in effect, retire, but without the stigma of “quitting”.
It is different to just letting the Prince of Wales and other members of the family take on all the visits and the meetings because, crucially, it extends to the constitutional and quasi-constitutional aspects of the job – the state opening of parliament and the Queen’s Speech, dissolution or proroguing parliament, meeting the prime minister for a weekly audience, formally agreeing to appointments and commissions, signing orders of the privy council, approving honours, meeting ambassadors, appointing ministers, that sort of thing. At the moment Prince Charles can’t properly undertake those tasks in a constitutionally secure fashion. With his appointment as prince regent he could do so. The Queen need not disappear from public view, and Charles would not be king, but it might be a neat way of dealing with the realities of where we are and of the inevitable consequences of human frailties.
Of course whether the prince is up to the task is another matter, but that’s true of him becoming monarch in any case. It might though be a tricky business, and a political one, if the Queen had to be advised on this course by her prime minister, which she is by convention obliged to do. So Boris Johnson, who has shown, for him, rare wisdom in wanting to stay out of palace affairs, and his cabinet, would have to take a view on whether a regency was a good idea. It would mean dealing with Prince Charles, a very different personality, and all that entails. The only precedent is the “madness of King George”, when the then Prince of Wales took over the duties of his father who was either mentally ill or suffering from a disease of the liver, porphyria, depending on which historian you believe. That last happened in 1811.
Plainly, Elizabeth II is not incapacitated in that way, but the burdens are heavy. Her doctors might decide that she is best downsizing the job, but they cannot make that decision politically. That decision formally would require the consent of at least three of the four officials appointed under the terms of the 1937 and 1953 Regency Act, the latest in a long line of such constitutional insurance policies. These officials are, believe it or not, Dominic Raab (as lord chancellor), Lindsay Hoyle (as speaker of the House of Commons), Lord Burnett of Maldon (lord chief justice) and Geoffrey Voss (master of the rolls). Once they have certified the incapacity and Prince Charles has taken the oath of office to become regent, then he is, de facto, monarch.
Of course none of this would in realty happen if the Queen adamantly refused to give up her formal role, and it may not be necessary, but it does allow her to continue as head of state, and no doubt exercise proper influence, give advice and be consulted.
Everyone involved should wish to avoid another constitutional and political crisis, and the Queen does need to put her feet up. That much at least is clear about recent events, even with the patchy details given to the media (who really shouldn’t complain too much about a modest amount of privacy afforded to her when she was poorly).
As everyone knows she is 95, and, though with a robust constitution, we all get old, however old we might feel. Her sense of duty pushes her on, but even she has had to relent and give up certain duties – overseas tours, the wreath-laying at the Cenotaph, many of the investures and so on. She can relinquish some more now.
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