27

From my understanding, the Crown's role is largely symbolic in UK in reality.

Is the monarch privy to any UK state secrets that normal non-government civilians wouldn't be privy to? Does the Queen get automatic security clearance?

  • While it's sort of true, she still has the power to dissolve Government when she see's fit. That's why the Prime Minister has to go to her first before calling elections or standing down. – mickburkejnr Sep 13 '17 at 9:52
  • 9
    Does the Queen get automatic security clearance? The Queen in the ultimate source of authority on who gets access to state secrets. The Queen doesn't get "automatic security clearance" because she doesn't need it. Nothing that Her Majesty's Government produces could possibly be denied to her. Furthermore, the purpose of clearance is to determine if a person is trustworthy enough to possess the information. Under the British model of government, the sovereign is inherently trustworthy. – MJeffryes Sep 13 '17 at 11:58
  • 1
    @MJeffryes It's reasonable to assume that there might be operational information that the monarch (not the Crown, which is a slightly more nebulous construct) isn't privy to. Although finding any evidence would be difficult, and is likely to slide into things like the rumours surrounding Edward VIII. – origimbo Sep 13 '17 at 12:12
  • 1
    @origimbo Sure, just as ministers don't know every operational detail. But it's not because they lack clearance, it's just that it isn't necessary for them to know it. Incidentally, MPs and judges also aren't subject to vetting, and do not require security clearance either, to view classified material. – MJeffryes Sep 13 '17 at 12:37
  • Which again isn't to say they aren't watched: telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/19/… – origimbo Sep 13 '17 at 13:00
26

There has been public confirmation that the Queen (and also Prince Charles) is on the standard circulation list for Cabinet memoranda. More directly, information about things like security arrangements for the royal family are obviously not for public consumption.

  • Do you know if anyone on the royal staff also sees this information, like their private secretaries? – user14623 Sep 13 '17 at 11:02
  • 3
    The Queen holds weekly audiences with The Prime Minister too. I'm sure classified information may come up in those. – Martin Smith Sep 13 '17 at 11:22
8

If you've not watched the Netflix series The Crown, I highly suggest you do so. Of particular note is the Red Box that the Queen gets almost every day

These boxes contain Cabinet and Foreign and Commonwealth Office documents, most of which the monarch must sign and give Royal Assent to, before they can become law.

Remember, the Queen is literally the UK government. So a better question here isn't

What secrets is she privy to?

but

Is there anything that cannot be disclosed to the Queen?

As the government of the UK, the answer seems to be "No". That having been said, I'm not sure they necessarily give her a briefing of every state secret either.

  • 3
    Your reframing of the question is a difficult one. In some senses the monarch is the CEO of the corporation of the United Kingdom and there might be information that can't be made available to the natural person regardless of their position. There's documentary evidence that the government tapped Edward VIII's communications before he abdicated in 1936 and I'm certain this wouldn't have been revealed to him if he'd asked. telegraph.co.uk/history/10073461/… – origimbo Sep 13 '17 at 15:17
  • @origimbo Fair enough, but in that case you're talking about a head of state acting in a way that could damage the state (at least in terms of image). It's also fair to note that in 1936 eavesdropping was a matter of picking up the switchboard phone and listening in (something I suspect was a far more common occurrence). Either way, it's an edge case involving the smooth operations of the State itself (you really don't want to be blindsided by an abdication). – Machavity Sep 13 '17 at 15:24
  • E.g. does she know how many nuclear weapons the UK has and what their targets are? How much did she know about the Falklands war? – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Sep 13 '17 at 20:39
  • 2
    @Martin Schröder she knows everything she wants. And even more, contrary to the propaganda, she is not a figurehead and actually actively engaged in politics. She just does not make her political positions public (that would undermine the monarchy, those who did so, quickly lost the crowns), and she usually does not use her formal powers (veto, firing powers etc) because she communicates her wishes privately and everyone concerned knows what she wishes and acts accordingly, she simply does not need to use her formal powers. – Anixx Sep 14 '17 at 12:35

You must log in to answer this question.

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