Business Insider Edition

Will the Queen use power now wielded in 300 years to save Brexit from being stopped?

Adam Bienkov , Business Insider US
 Jan 25, 2019, 02:16 PM
Queen and PM
UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II. (Getty)
  • Brexit supporters want the UK's Queen to step in to prevent Brexit being delayed or stopped.
  • Britain's constitutional monarchy gives the monarch the power to prevent bills passed by the Houses of Parliament from becoming law.
  • Conservative MPs want the monarch to use these powers to ensure Britain leaves the EU on March 29.
  • However, the power has not been used for over 300 years and would trigger a major constitutional crisis.

With even Theresa May now privately admitting that Brexit is likely to be delayed, many Brexiteers are searching for ways to ensure that Britain really does leave the EU on March 29.

One idea that has gained currency over the past week is that the Queen (who was reportedly pro-Brexit before the EU referendum) could use her powers to ensure Britain's exit from the EU.

So is it possible that the Queen really could intervene to save Brexit?

Suspend parliament

MPs are due to vote next Tuesday on a Brexit amendment brought by Labour MP Yvette Cooper, which would pave the way for legislation to be passed early next month that would force the prime minister to seek an extension of the two-year Brexit process.

This would mean that Britain would potentially not leave the EU until the end of the year, with fears among Brexiteers that the delay would be used by pro-EU MPs to prevent Brexit happening altogether.

As things stand Cooper's bill looks to have a clear chance of passing. So can it be stopped?

See also: The FT correspondent in SA is reporting on the UK as if it’s an African country - and it’s hilarious

Well one plan pushed by leading Conservative Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg on Wednesday, is for Theresa May to ask the Queen to "prorogue" parliament.

Mogg told an event in Westminster yesterday that May should use all "vestigial constitutional means" to stop the bill being passed, including suspending parliament.

"The executive is entitled to use other vestigial constitutional means to stop it, by which I basically mean prorogation," he said.

"Prorogation normally lasts for three days but any law that is in the process before prorogation falls. I think that would be the government's answer."

See also: Say goodbye to tea and carrots: There will be food shortages if there's a no-deal Brexit, HSBC says

So could this work?

Well there are a couple of obvious problems with this plan. The first is that May has already signalled her opposition to it, telling Conservative MP Desmond Swayne last week that she would not be "tempted" to go down the route of suspending parliament.

The second is that even if parliament was suspended, MPs would simply jump on the next piece of legislation that appeared before them when they returned and amend it to have the same effect as Cooper's bill.

So how else could the Queen intervene?

Refuse Royal Assent

Getty

Under Britain's unwritten and archaic constitution the monarch must give "Royal Assent" to all legislation passed by the Houses of Parliament, before it can become law.

In principle this means that the Queen could decide to refuse assent for a piece of legislation and prevent it entering the statute books.

As Brexiteer Conservative MP Mark Francois told Talk Radio this week: "under our constitution the monarch is the ultimate constitutional backstop."

However, while in theory the Queen retains this power, in practice it has not been used by any monarch since the reign of Queen Anne, who used it to veto the Scottish Militia Act in 1707. Doing so again would be certain to provoke a constitutional crisis the like of which Britain has not seen for hundreds of years.

In reality the power to veto legislation passed by MPs would probably only ever be used again in the most extreme of situations - for example to stop a law legislating to kill the first born of every family, or to prevent the creation of a fascist dictatorship.

So while it's possible the Queen could prevent Cooper's Brexit delay bill becoming law, it is incredibly unlikely that she would choose to do so simply to ensure that Brexit takes place on a certain date decided by MPs two years ago.

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