Media reports that Mrs. May (Conservatives) is heading to the Queen soon requesting to form a government, even though her party has no majority. Corbyn & McDonnell (Labour Party) also want to form a government, which gained in the elections but still has many fewer seats than the Conservatives.

What power does the Queen have in this position? Can she say this to Mrs. May?

Sorry, you lost your majority, it's not up to you.


2 Answers 2


Queen's prerogative powers

The Queen has the right to authorise the forming of a new government and the appointment of a Prime Minister. So, theoretically, she can and has the power to say 'no' to the request.

The Queen only has the power to authorise the formation of a new government and appoint a new Prime Minister. There aren't any special powers in the event of a hung parliament.

According to this Parliament's research briefing, it's part of the Queen's prerogative powers:

3 The Crown’s personal prerogative powers

There are three main prerogative powers recognised under the common law which still reside in the jurisdiction of the Crown. Firstly, the appointment of a Prime Minister; the sovereign must appoint that person who is in the best position to receive the support of the majority in the House of Commons. However, this does not involve the sovereign in making a personal assessment of leading politicians since no major party could fight a general election without a recognised leader.

However, if after an election no one party has an absolute majority in the House (as in 1923, 1929 and February 1974) then the Queen will send for the leader of the party with the largest number of seats (as in 1929 and 1974) or with the next largest number of seats (as in January 1924). Alternatively, the sovereign would have to initiate discussions with and between the parties to discover, for example, whether a government could be formed by a politician who was not a party leader or whether a coalition government could be formed.

(emphasis mine)

2017 General Election

That being said, it's very high unlikely that that would happen, especially when May likely has the support of the DUP and is able to form a workable majority.

As of declared results, the Conservative Party will have at least 318 seats and the DUP has 10 seats. That makes 328 seats in total and a simple majority is just 326. Thus, it's mathematically impossible for the Labour Party to reach a majority, even if all the other parties form a coalition with them.

What role does the Queen play?

The leader of the party that can tell the Queen they have a workable Commons majority is the one Her Majesty will authorise to form a government.

By convention, the Queen does not get involved in party politics, so there are no circumstances in which she would choose the prime minister. There have been suggestions that she may not deliver the Queen's Speech in person if there's a question mark over whether it will get voted through.

(emphasis mine)

Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-2017-40209087

This Mirror article – "'Can the Queen say no to Theresa May?' Prime Minister seeks permission to form government from monarch" mentions this too:

The simple fact is, the monarch can't refuse permission to form a government from a party leader if they have the required number of seats to make up a majority.

If May has managed to cobble together a coalition and goes to the palace to ask the Queen to form a government, Her Majesty can't exactly say no.

What happens when a minority party tries to force its way to form a government?

It's also worth noting that should a minority party try to form a government without having the votes in the House of Commons, it will likely fail to pass the Queen's Speech. This will then force the Prime Minister to resign.

The Queen's Speech is thought of as the first test of a minority or coalition government. If any amendments to the Queen's Speech are passed by the House of Commons, or if the vote on the speech itself is lost, the Prime Minister must resign.

Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin's 1924 King's Speech was defeated by 72 votes - he resigned the next morning and Ramsay MacDonald formed the first Labour government...which itself only lasted nine months.

(emphasis mine)

Source: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/what-confidence-supply-mean-how-5344481

The incumbent Prime Minister also advises the Queen on who to appoint as the next PM.

Currently, when a Prime Minister resigns, he or she advises the Queen on whom she should appoint as the next Prime Minister. The established convention seems to be that the Monarch is not obliged to take the advice of the outgoing Prime Minister, and may take advice from other sources, although if the resignation of a Prime Minister follows a general election in which another party has won a single majority in the Commons, there will be in practice no question about who should become the new Prime Minister.

Further reading

The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the UK Parliament published a Select Committee Publications on the "Lessons from the process of Government formation after the 2010 General Election". It describes in detail constitutional rules and the conventions and is worth reading.

Just a note, the government formation process is mainly based on precedent and there is no exact constitutional process, as mentioned in the committee publication linked above.

Government formation takes place within a constitutional framework which is largely unwritten and based on precedent.

  • 4
    @AndyT As you may be aware, for quite a lot of how the UK political system works, finding an authoritative reference can be difficult, since the constitution is formed from the body of laws and precedents which already exist. If you're really lucky, there's sometimes a parliamentary briefing document or similar, but not always.
    – origimbo
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 12:41
  • 1
    This is a good answer, but omits one important convention: the incumbent PM advises the Queen on who to invite to be the new PM if he loses. So in 2010, Gordon Brown advised the Queen to appoint David Cameron 5 days after the election, once it became clear that the conservatives were about to form a working coalition. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 12:58
  • Also, notwithstanding the research briefing quoted above, the Civil Service mediated the coalition talks in 2010. The queen stayed out of it. Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:00
  • 1
    @origimbo Yup, even a parliamentary committee report says so -- "Government formation takes place within a constitutional framework which is largely unwritten and based on precedent."
    – Panda
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:12
  • 1
    @origimbo - Although aware of that, it wasn't in the forefront of my mind when writing my previous comment (now deleted as obsolete with the revised answer). Panda - a much improved answer, your new first reference is great. I think the real key (and I'm surprised it's not emphasised) is the phrase "the sovereign must appoint that person who is in the best position to receive the support of the majority in the House of Commons"; so the Queen could only refuse* May if it looked like Corbyn would be more likely to command a majority. (*or given the current situation "could only have refused")
    – AndyT
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 13:36

I believe this question stems from a false premise. Theresa May, as currently serving Prime Minster, is already the head of the government and doesn't need ask the Queen to form a new one. Elections don't result in the automatic dissolution of the government. For a new government to be formed either Theresa May must first resign or her government must lose a vote of no confidence in parliament.

According to Wikipedia:

Until the Prime Minister reacts to the election result, either by deciding to remain on or by resigning, the Monarch has no role. Only if the Prime Minister resigns can the Monarch then commission someone else to form a government.

For example after the elections of February 1974 resulted in a hung parliament, the old Prime Minister, Edward Heath didn't resign immediately. He, and his government, remained in power for a few days after the election while he tried to form a coalition. When that failed, he resigned, and the Queen invited Harold Wilson to form a government. A similar thing happened after the 2010 elections where Gordon Brown stayed on as Prime Minster while trying to court the Liberal Democrats into partnering with his Labour party. When that failed he resigned a few days after the election and the Queen invited David Cameron to form a government.

  • 1
    Then why did she head to the Queen today?
    – gerrit
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 0:02
  • @gerrit I don't know exactly. Maybe just to let the Queen know she was intending to stay on. She might also asked the Queen to dissolve the old government and form a new one, but I don't think this was required of May. She would have had to ask the Queen to formally approve any cabinet changes, but apparently she didn't actually make any today.
    – Ross Ridge
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 1:11
  • 1
    There is no false premise. The premise is: "Mrs. May is heading to the Queen soon requesting to form a government. What power does the Queen have in this position?". The starting point for the premise is that the PM has already approached the queen. The first line of your quote from Wikipedia is: "Until the Prime Minister reacts to the election result, either by deciding to remain on or by resigning, the Monarch has no role". Mrs. May has decided to remain on. Had she failed to react at all, then it would be up to Parliament (through a no confidence vote), but we're past that point.
    – JBentley
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 11:29
  • 1
    @gerrit it's worthwhile to point out the PM meets with the Queen on a weekly basis ordinarily; having additional meetings after major events is not unheard of.
    – gsnedders
    Commented Jun 11, 2017 at 11:48

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .