Earlier this week David Cameron, in what he intended to be a private conversation with Michael Bloomberg on Scotland’s vote to stay in the U.K., was caught saying the following:
“The definition of relief, if you are prime minister of the United Kingdom, is ringing up Her Majesty the Queen and saying ‘Your Majesty, it is all right, it’s O.K.’”
The prime minister is clearly very embarrassed about this, as he should be. And this is what the media seems to be focusing on. But his comments sparked a different thought with me: If you are the PM, why is “the definition of relief” reporting to the queen that things are okay?
Mr. Cameron’s comment reminded me of some news that hit the British press in January 2013. From the Daily Mail:
The Queen and Prince Charles have been given at least 39 chances to veto legislation before it became law, it was revealed today.
Secret papers show the most senior Royals have had numerous opportunities to torpedo bills that could change their powers, including a law that would have given parliament sole authority to sanction strikes on Iraq during the 1999 war.
The extent of the influence the Queen and Prince Charles have over legislation has been laid bare because Downing Street lost a legal battle to keep details secret.
Academic John Kirkhope, who fought the Government to release the documents, said: “There has been an implication that these prerogative powers are quaint and sweet but actually there is real influence and real power, albeit unaccountable.”
Andrew George, Liberal Democrat MP for St Ives, part of which includes Duchy of Cornwall land, said: “This is opening the eyes of those who believe the Queen only has a ceremonial role.”
And from the Telegraph:
At least 39 bills have been subject to Royal approval, with the senior royals using their power to consent or block new laws in areas such as higher education, paternity pay and child maintenance.
Internal Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that on one occasion the Queen vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, which aimed to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament.
She was also asked to consent to the Civil Partnership Act in 2004.
In the Whitehall document, which was released following a court order, the Parliamentary Counsel warns that if consent is not given by the royals “a major plank of the bill must be removed”.
And don’t forget what happened in Australia in 1975.
Please forgive me for not answering the question I posed in the title — clearly, I don’t know how the relationship between the royal family and the government works behind the scenes. But I would like to.
— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar and economist at the American Enterprise Institute. You can write to him on Twitter at twitter.com/MichaelRStrain.