How Much Power Does Queen Elizabeth II Actually Have?
Depending on how closely you follow the British royal family, you may know that Queen Elizabeth II has some bizarre powers as the United Kingdom’s monarch, such as eating swans and stealing children. Luckily, there’s no evidence that she exercises either of those powers. But does she have any sway in the British political process?
Under the British Constitution, Queen Elizabeth II has quite a few powers and privileges. Ahead, discover some of the things that the queen has the power to do.
She can open and close Parliament sessions
Royal Central reports that many of Queen Elizabeth II’s political powers are largely ceremonial. One easy example is her ability to summon and prorogue Parliament, essentially opening and closing Parliamentary sessions. Reader’s Digest points out that Parliament (not the royal family) is the United Kingdom’s highest governing body. The queen has to officially open the session every May to begin the Parliamentary year.
That involves a ceremony where Queen Elizabeth II leads a procession through the Royal Gallery at the Palace of Westminster and then gives a formal address to both Houses of Parliament. In fact, it’s the only event where the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and the queen gather together. Reader’s Digest notes that the queen also technically has the power to fire everyone in the House of Commons and hold an election — but she’s never used this power, and the last time a monarch did was in 1830.
Queen Elizabeth II has to sign off on new laws
Another of Queen Elizabeth II’s ceremonial — but important — political powers is the Royal Assent. Parliament makes laws, but the queen must sign off on proposed bills before they can go into effect. By giving the Royal Assent, she approves the proposed law. She technically also can reject bills. But the last monarch to do that was Queen Anne, who in 1708 vetoed a measure that would have restored the Scottish militia.
Royal Central reports that the queen also has the power to create secondary legislation. She can create Orders-in-Council and Letters Patent, which regulate matters relating to the crown, such as titles and precedence. The queen famously signed off on the 2013 Succession to the Crown Act, which discarded the centuries-old system of male-preference primogeniture to ensure that female heirs — like Princess Charlotte — won’t lose their places in the line of succession to younger brothers, as happened to Princess Anne.
She can appoint Ministers to the Crown, and pardon criminals
Reader’s Digest reports that Queen Elizabeth II also has the power to appoint Ministers to the Crown. While most government officials in the United Kingdom have to be voted into office, the queen can select advisors and cabinet officials herself. Royal Central notes that the queen is also responsible for appointing the Prime Minister after a general election or a resignation.
Other interesting political powers Queen Elizabeth II has? The sovereign retains the power to declare war against other nations. However, as Royal Central notes, the Prime Minister and Parliament usually do this, in practice. And the last monarch to declare war was King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, who declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939. The queen can also grant a royal pardon to anyone convicted of a crime, and in 2013, she granted a posthumous pardon to World War II codebreaker Alan Turing. And under British law, the queen cannot be prosecuted and is free from civil action.
The queen is technically responsible for issuing passports and commanding the British military
Queen Elizabeth II also has powers that ministers exercise for her. For instance, Reader’s Digest reports that anyone with a British passport technically has it thanks to the queen. Each one is issued in her name, even though other people do the work for her.
The queen is also the Commander-in-Chief of the United Kingdom’s military, and all British soldiers have to swear an oath to her before they officially join. “With the power to command the army, though, comes the power to delegate that duty as well,” Reader’s Digest explains. “The Queen can assign the position of Commander-in-Chief to another government official, most commonly the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Defence.”
Queen Elizabeth II can bestow honors on individuals
Royal Central reports that “One of the main prerogative powers that are still used personally by The Queen these days is the power to grant honours. As all honours derive from the Crown, The Queen has the final say on knighthoods, peerages and the like.”
She can create peerages for people, either life peerages or hereditary ones (though she hasn’t done the latter in decades). The queen can also create orders of knighthood. And she can grant any citizen honours ranging from the Royal Victorian Order to the Order of the Garter, or making someone a Knight or Dame.
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