As per this answer, "Remember though, all these powers are on paper only. In reality all those powers lie with the Prime Minister and Parliament" and "The sovereign does actually still have official powers, but the sovereign only uses them at the behest of the elected government, namely the prime minister".

What happens if the British monarch suddenly decides to not play ball; and actually exercise those powers (e.g., refuse assent; or suspend Parliament; or declare war - without PM's/parliament's agreement)?

Are there official plans with British government/parliament on what to do in such a situation?

NOTE: The scope of the question is actually formal projected plans (as opposed to theoretical "what might happen?").

  • 1
    A subquestion I have (not sure if I should ask as a separate Q?) is, are there actually any legal options for government/parlament to override the monarch, given suspend and assent powers of the latter?
    – user4012
    Apr 3, 2017 at 15:32
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    Generally constitutional crises have their legality decided by the winners. Conveniently, it's usually found that the winner's position was the legal one.
    – origimbo
    Apr 3, 2017 at 17:35
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    Also, this is too fragmentary to be a full answer, but a declaration of war would fall foul of the (English) Bill of Rights, which makes it fairly clear that the British Army exists solely with the consent of Parliament.
    – origimbo
    Apr 3, 2017 at 17:43
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    My guess is that elected government would force the monarchy back into obeying the constitutional conventions, possibly by using martial force. If it gets this far, the monarchy might also get abolished...United Republic/Commonwealth of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
    – xuq01
    Apr 3, 2017 at 18:28
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    We are talking about a constitutional crisis scenario. It could be that the Monarch is mad/crazy/etc... this is easy (incapacitation, crown a new one). But apart from that such a situation is likely to be part of a bigger problem: democracy no longer works and Parliament is not representative/popular and the Monarch has the support of the people / the Monarch has the support of the Army and is stagging a coup d'état / aliens have landed in Buckingham and hold the Monarch hostage / [insert your own crazy scenario]. Without knowing the underlying causes, plans are meaningless. So I bet on no.
    – SJuan76
    Apr 3, 2017 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


First of all, the existence of any such plans would arguably constitute high treason against the monarch. In more practical terms, it would be regarded as a scandal by large segments of the press and public, who hold the Queen in much higher esteem than elected politicians.

So officially, there are no plans. Any unofficial plans which existed which would have to be kept secret.

There are probably no unofficial plans either, because an attempt by the monarch to overrule Parliament would be part of an unprecedented crisis.

It has been 300 years since a monarch refused assent to an Act of Parliament, and more than 100 years since it was even seriously considered. It is safe to say that a direct conflict between monarch and Parliament will not happen except in extraordinary circumstances. By definition, it could only happen if the normal functioning of the UK government had almost completely broken down.

The response of Parliament would depend heavily on the nature of the crisis, the balance of the political parties, and the personalities involved. There would be very little point in formulating contingency plans "just in case".

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    It is unlikely such plans exist at all since the Government would be effectively helpless without the backing of the Armed Forces. An interesting thought exercise since, if required, the military who swear allegiance to the Monarch would likely rout the constabulary and seize all Key Terrain. Furthermore, the police force of Westminster are provided by the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC) who are the most senior Regiment in the entire United Kingdom and parade first in ceremony. I would also uphold the Monarchy long before the nest of vipers that is incumbent Govt and spineless opposition Apr 24, 2017 at 12:23
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    @Venture2099: do you have any source for the claim about the HAC? The Wikipedia article states that it is a regiment of the Army, not the police, and makes no mention of any link to a role in Parliament or Westminster. Apr 24, 2017 at 15:26
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    It is in the Wikipedia article that you linked to. See: City of London Police. Sorry, my Westminster comment was not intended to indicate they are guarding the Houses of Parliament. The are the police force of the territory known as City of London. Apr 24, 2017 at 16:24
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    Ah, I see; here's another link. To be clear, the City of London Police only have jurisdiction over the 1.1 square miles of the City of London, which does not include Westminster or any other borough in Greater London, those being the responsibility of the Metropolitan Police. Apr 24, 2017 at 22:17
  • No worries. Well clarified. Apr 25, 2017 at 12:28

The key thing to note about reserved powers in the modern era, is that they are exercised on the advice and consent of the monarch's ministers. This is not just information to help the monarch reach a decision, but a binding requirement. From parliament.uk:

Government Ministers exercise the majority of the prerogative powers either in their own right or through the advice they provide to the Queen which she is bound constitutionally to follow.

The article goes on to describe how this is practically enforced through collective responsibility of ministers: a monarch cannot actually work effectively without ministers and civil servants, so on a basic level they need to be listened to for anything to get done.

This does not by itself mean the monarch can't take an active role in proceedings if necessary. But any actions would only be seen as legally valid if there was an argument to fall back on that they were being enacted on at least someone's advice, and with some elected minister's consent. For instance, if a highly unpopular bill made it through Parliament thanks to blatant corruption and there were armed rioters in the streets, the monarch would probably be able to provide a constitutional safety valve by refusing assent to the bill on the advice of a senior minister with some security responsibilities. This could likely be found legal later if the corrupt parliament was successfully ousted.

If the monarch decided to withhold assent because she doesn't like your face? Well, it would be analogous to a police officer arresting you because they don't like your face either. They might get away with the physical action in the heat of the moment - if they have a gun, it might be wise to comply - but (evidence aside) the arrest certainly wouldn't be held up as legal by anybody after the fact.

"Constitutional crisis" is often thrown around to describe such a situation. It wouldn't be the effect, however, but the necessary precondition - if Parliament's will is unified and recognized as legitimate, the monarch can't legitimately refuse assent (or take other such actions), because they wouldn't be acting in accordance with the requirements of the office. They would likely either be perceived as incompetent, or as attempting a coup (n.b. that some coups succeed, of course).

Since the situation is legally illegitimate, it doesn't need to have a specific plan beyond that for dealing with any other government officer who fails to carry out their duties, as adjusted to the officer in question. TL;DR: at the moment, no.

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    Is Charles's execution actually relevant? The constitution of the UK today is rather different from its state in the seventeenth century.
    – phoog
    Apr 3, 2017 at 19:48
  • 2
    You might consider Edward VIII, who kept his head, but not his throne.
    – origimbo
    Apr 3, 2017 at 20:03
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    "Advise and consent" is a phrase from the US Constitution, relating to the Senate's power to confirm presidential appointements. It is not normally used in connection with the British monarchy. In the letter of the law, it is still the monarch who (for example) assents to a bill being passed by Parliament, not any minister. Apr 24, 2017 at 11:51
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    @RoyalCanadianBandit: on the contrary: those words are used at the start of every Act of Parliament: "Be it enacted by the Queen's [King's] most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:-" Apr 24, 2017 at 15:30
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    @SteveMelnikoff: OK, my mistake. But the above answer has the consent process backwards: The Commons and Lords consent to a bill, and then it is offered to the Queen for royal assent. Apr 25, 2017 at 7:36

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