The Queen And The Prime Minister

Do they interact at all? Does she have any influence over his decisions? Does he have to answer to her in any way?

I know the Royals are just “figureheads”, but I cannot believe they are satisfied to just appear at certain times looking “royal”.



The Queen’s duties are, primarily, ceremonial, but she takes them seriously … the Queen and the Prime Minister meet on a regular basis (I think weekly while Parliament’s in session), at which time our Dear Leader will inform Her Majesty of what new perfidy she’ll be required to give the Royal Assent to. (Rumour had it that the meetings between the Queen and Margaret Thatcher were pretty frosty - but that’s just rumour, and the people who’d actually know aren’t talking.)

After a general election, the leader of the winning party is invited to the Palace to be officially asked to form a Government. And the Queen delivers the annual Queen’s Speech, which outlines the legislation proposed for the coming year … the Queen’s role may be strictly formal, but she is involved in government. (And, by all accounts, takes her involvement seriously.)

I presume you’re speaking of the UK.

The Queen and the Prime Minister meet once a week. Meetings are private, but it is understood that the meetings are serious, and policy is discussed. Constitutionally, the Queen has the right to be consulted about goverment policy, and the right to offer advice, warnings and encouragement.

The Queen is enormously experienced - she’s been doing this since 1952 - and some Prime Ministers, particularly early in office, are understood to have found her input extremely useful. For instance, she will often have met a foreign head of state several times, and dealt with him before, and followed the dealings of previous Prime Ministers with him, and this may enable her to offer a new Prime Minister useful insights.

Other members of the Royal Family have no political influence, except to the extent that they can influence the Queen, and except possibly for the Prince of Wales, who may have limited influence becuase politicians want to stay close to him, and becaue of his ability to influence public opinion by drawing attention to matters that concern him.


Years ago I read a novel, whose title I can’t recall, which traces the lives of a couple of (fictional) UK politicians who end up becoming the respective leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties. At the end of the book, following a general election in which their parties come out exactly even in Parliamentary seats (with no smaller parties that either side could include in a governing coalition, I guess), the Queen gets to decide which of them is to be the next Prime Minister.

IRL, would the Queen indeed have such power? Are there actually any existing laws covering such a situation?


‘Novel’, hmmmm … wouldn’t be by a chap by the name of Archer, per chance ?

Yes, the Queen has this power, or a variant on it.

Strictly speaking, after a general election, or when a prime minister resigns, the Queen sends for someone and invites them to form a government. They cannot form a government without the support of a majority in the House of Commons, so the Queen always sends for the leader of the party with a majority in the House.

The UK’s bizarre electoral system makes it very unlikely that no party will have a majority, but it can happen. If no party has a majority, the larger parties will try to do a deal for support with a smaller party or parties which holds the balance of power. If they succeed, she sends for the leader of that party.

If no party has a majority, and no deal can be struck, the outgoing prime minister will usually advise her to dissolve parliament and hold a general election. But if there has just been a general election, this might be pointless - there is no reason to expect a clearer result. In these conditions (and note that these conditions have not been satisifiedi in modern times) then she has a discretion as to who to send for. She will (presumably) send for the person who she thinks has the best chance of forming a government. The very fact that she has sent for him gives him a slight advantage in trying to put together the necessary support. He would become prime minister, and remain prime minister until such time as he lost a vote in the House of Commons. Those smaller parties which are not committed to supporting him would hesitate to have him lose a vote, since this might be electorally unpopular (the electorate doesn’t like frequent elections). Also, for a time he will probably try to bring forward only such measures as he thinks are likely to command cross-party support.

This would not be a very stable arrangement, but it would keep things going for a while as efforts to do a firm deal on government support continued. If all else failed, it would allow some months to pass before another general election, and would increase the chances that the next election would produce a more definitive result.

As London_Calling evidently realizes already, the novel that you are describing is First Among Equals by Jeffrey Archer.

As UDS has explained, the Queen does indeed have this “power,” but there are no “existing laws covering such a situation” because the British Constitution is (largely) unwritten and based on custom and practice. Technically, the Queen appoints all her ministers, including the prime minister, and they all serve at her pleasure. Theoretically, she can appoint anyone as her first minister; practically, she is limited to appointing someone who can form a government that the House of Commons will support. Likewise, all legislation must still receive her assent, but the royal assent has not been withheld for almost three hundred years and, as Walter Bagehot observed in his book The English Constitution more than a century ago, modern politics so constrains the monarch that the royal assent would not be withheld even from a death warrant for the monarch.

UDS is correct that the Commons’ political composition has never, in modern times, let the monarch decide singlehandedly among competing candidates for prime minister: one party or another has always emerged with a clear majority, and its leader has always become the prime minister. But the king did exercise significant influence over who led the Coalition governments in the 1930s and 1940s, since (at least in theory) all the parties had united into a single coalition, and the coalition partners could have lined up behind any of several candidates for prime minister.

Thanks, all, for the very informative replies!

L_C and brian, that is indeed the novel I was referring to. Thanks for providing that info, since I’ve wanted for quite some time now to reread the book but had no real way of finding it without a title or author’s name to go by.