The queen died recently, news of her death and the postmortem events held in her honor generated a lot of reactions from numerous persons and organizations all over the world. Many of the reactions contained condolences to the British people and offered favorable reviews of the reign of the queen, but some of the reactions expressed joy at the queen’s death and there were various criticisms of the conduct of Britain during the reign of the deceased British monarch. These reactions and criticisms were sometimes met with the rebuttal that the influence and powers wielded by the British Monarch are ceremonial and as such the monarch cannot be held responsible for the actions of the British government.
Is it then true that the British monarchy just performs a ceremonial function and has no real say in government? Does the British monarchy bear no responsibility for the actions carried out by the British government? Does the British monarchy not bear any responsibility or share no culpability in actions carried out by Britain in its colonies or former colonies in the 20th and 21st century?
The monarch is constitutionally regarded as the sovereign and head of government and has the power to appoint the prime minister, dissolve parliament, dismiss ministers, ratify treatises and international agreements, award honors and a host of all other powers, but most of these powers by convention or statute are performed in proxy by the various tiers of the British government. This has led many to assert that the monarchy is just ceremonial and as such holds no real power; even though the monarch is required to give Royal Assent before laws are passed, this is just regarded as a formality as no monarch in recent history has refused to give assent.
The British monarch holds weekly audiences with the prime minister, these audiences are usually private and the content of the discussions are not public knowledge. The British monarch is legally empowered to “advise and warn” the prime minister on matters related to governance and is also expected to be politically neutral. The British monarch also holds secretive, private audiences with ambassadors and high commissioners of foreign nations who represent their various countries in these discussions with the monarch; the monarch also holds audiences with heads of state. These audiences indicate that at least to a very significant degree the British monarchy is highly involved in governance as it consults regularly with the principal actors that direct British national and foreign policy. Members of the monarchy also undertake state visits to foreign countries and hosts foreign heads of state whenever they come visiting; one should not underestimate the diplomatic power the monarch wields by means of these liaisons with foreign political players. The extent of the influence the monarch exerts as a result of these audiences is not known due to the secretive nature of these meetings, but it will be incorrect to regard the influence as being negligible.
These audiences indeed show that the monarchy is deeply involved in national and foreign policy and as such shares a responsibility in the development and enactment of these policies. Through the royal assent the monarch has to formally approve an act of legislature, while this is regarded as little more than a formality, it is important to note that this legislation is still being carried out in the monarch’s name and with the permission of the monarch. The British government is run in the name of the monarch and acts on behalf of the monarch; the British monarch is referred to as the absolute authority. It will therefore be correct for one to assert that the actions of the British government are the actions of the British monarch and as such it will not be wrong for one to criticize the British monarch for the actions carried out by the British state as such actions were done on behalf of the monarch. The existence of the King’s consent calls into question the validity of the assertion that the influence of the monarch is mainly ceremonial. King’s consent is sought for any parliamentary bill that affects the monarch’s own prerogatives or interests, this consent is obtained before parliament has debated a bill and affords the monarch the opportunity to change this bill to his choosing. The range of legislation that can be affected by the king’s consent is wide and the extent of influence they wield on legislation is unknown as the monarch usually exerts this influence in secret; out of public scrutiny, but what we can gather from this is that the monarch can and does affect legislation if he so chooses. The monarch receives regular reports on the happenings in government and in some cases even receives intelligence reports before they even get to the prime minister. The monarch at all times is always kept abreast of the happenings in government and can always summon the prime minister regarding any issue.
Considering the range of information and contacts available to the monarch, it will then be misleading for one to posit that the monarchy has little influence in government because for every significant action the British government carries out, the monarch is consulted before such an action is undertaken.
I conclude by saying that one will not be wrong in apportioning responsibility to the monarchy for consequences of the actions carried out by Britain, while the power wielded in Britain may be considerably lower than that wielded by monarchs in Arab nations, the monarchy still possesses considerable power and influence over both the national and foreign policy of Britain.