Could the Queen have stopped Brexit?

  • If Her Majesty so desired, would she have been allowed to overrule the will of both the people and the House of Commons and prevent the triggering of Article 50?

    If so, what political backlash would result from such an action?

    "The Queen has a veto. The Queen has at most one veto."

    The Queen probably voted for Brexit! lol

  • In theory: Yes.

    Brexit requires legislation, which the Queen can veto; and the Queen also has prerogative over international treaties.

    It was decided by the UK Supreme Court that the government cannot instigate Brexit at all without the approval of Parliament. Parliament has already passed an Act authorising the Prime Minister to trigger article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin the formal process of leaving the EU. At that time, the Queen could have refused royal assent to the Act and stopped Brexit.

    Now that the Act has received royal assent, there is no procedure for "unassenting" it; it could only be overruled by a further Act of Parliament.

    However, the technical process of Brexit will require eight further Acts of Parliament, as set out in the Queen's Speech on 21 June 2017. In principle, any or all of these could be vetoed by the Queen.

    Furthermore, the executive power of the British government to make and withdraw from international treaties is a royal prerogative, exercised on the Queen's behalf by the Prime Minister and Cabinet. If the Queen saw fit, then in theory she could use these powers herself. French President Macron has suggested the UK could choose to remain in the EU; the Queen could simply declare that she is exercising this option and cancelling Brexit by royal decree.

    In practice: No.

    The government of the UK depends very heavily on unwritten conventions. If an action violates convention, it is not in any practical sense possible, even though the letter of the law may seem to allow it.

    There is absolutely no recent precedent for a British monarch overruling Parliament in this manner. The last time a monarch vetoed a bill was more than 300 years ago, and that was not on a particularly momentous issue. (Specifically, Queen Anne withheld assent in 1708 from a bill on arming militia in Scotland.)

    Other precedents did not end well for the monarch:

    • Charles I (reigned 1625-49) fought a civil war which ended with his defeat and execution;
    • James II (1685-88) was overthrown and exiled;
    • Edward VIII (1936) was compelled to abdicate.

    Queen Elizabeth II personally has been scrupulously neutral in party politics, throughout her reign of more than 60 years. It is exceedingly unlikely that she would change her approach now.

    Unless the country was in such a state of crisis that it amounted to imminent or actual civil war, it is almost unimaginable that the Queen would interfere in politics in this way; or that the government, Parliament, and public opinion would tolerate such interference if she tried.

    +1 for catching what I missed: That more Acts of Parliament are needed, and the Queen could still stop them (in theory, though not in practice).

    *"personally has been scrupulously neutral in party politics"* - but Brexit is more than just party politics. It is a long term action affecting the future for many generations to come, not just some "party politics" issue which could be overruled after the next election.

    @vsz: So were many other things in the last 64 years: Wars, decolonisation, the Scottish independence referendum, and joining the (then) EEC in the first place, to name a few. The Queen has been very carefully neutral in all of them.

    OT but strictly speaking James II abdicated. He dissolved the army, burnt the writs for the next election, and threw the Great Seal into the Thames before fleeing the country, leaving it technically ungovernable.

    *"scrupulously neutral"*. Yes but she did intervene before the Scottish referendum - not in a blunt way, but she did: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/dec/16/scottish-independence-queen-intervene-yes-vote-fears

    The role of the Queen's veto as Head of State is to prevent the passing of an unconstitutional law - for example a law banning elections and giving open-ended power to one party. Any attempt to veto a constitutional law, no matter how bad the law, would trigger a massive constitutional crisis that might result in the abolition of the monarchy.

    @EJP: The distinction between "overthrown" and "abdicated at bayonet point" is not all that big.

    @ypercubeᵀᴹ: From the article: "[The Queen] has been scrupulous during her 62-year reign in observing the impartiality expected of a constitutional monarch..." Now 64 years and counting, of course. HM made a public comment that people should think carefully before voting. Compared to vetoing an Act of Parliament, that ain't the same ballpark, the same league, or even the same sport (to paraphrase Jules in Pulp Fiction).

    I didn't claim it was the same league. But it was an intervention, however carefully phrased. It was indeed very carefully phrased, so it could be denied to be a intervention. "I am careful not to appear to intervene" is not the same as "I do not intervene" ;)

    (Answer edited to note the importance of unwritten conventions.)

    @Bandit Thank you that is exactly what I was looking for. Consider making an answer that includes that part to my question please. I think that is the piece that the rest of the world is missing when they try to wrap their head around how the British Government works.

    Curious about the relevance of Edward VIII in this answer. I thought his abdication was pretty much entirely about his wish to marry. Was there any suggestion during his reign that he was going to refuse Royal Assent to any bill?

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Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM