The British PM traditionally meets the Queen every week to discuss government matters. However this seems like a pointless exercise given that the British monarch lacks any direct influence.

So why does the PM bother meeting the monarch at this point? Is it a mere formality or perhaps there's a law forcing the PM to do so?


It is a constitutional rather than a statutory requirement:

Prime Ministers have a constitutional responsibility to tell the Queen what is happening (John Major)

The Queen remains the Head of State, and the Prime Minister is required (by tradition and precedent) to keep the Queen apprised of government business. The Queen lacks direct power, but she retains influence.

The meetings are confidential and no minutes are taken, but they appear not to be formalities. The PM really goes and talks directly about the issues of the week, and the Queen questions and discusses. It seems that she is careful not to tell the PM her opinions. Tony Blair said that even after 10 years of meetings, he did not know her personal opinions on political matters. The Queen has influence, but chooses not to exercise it by direct advice.

Some Prime Ministers have said that they found it useful to explain and discuss with an intelligent but non-political person. It helped them to gain perspective away from the adversarial arena of the Commons. David Cameron described the meetings as "one of the most valuable hours of the week" as it helped him sort out the problems in his own head.

If a PM chose to, they could abolish the meeting. The Queen must act on the advice of her ministers. But this would signal a marked shift in the UK constitution towards a Republic. However even Prime Ministers who regarded the audience as a duty (Margaret Thatcher is said to have called the Autumn visit to Balmoral "purgatory") have never tried to get rid of it.

The Queen also receives a daily "red box" from the other ministers advising her of their department's business.

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    “Some Prime Ministers have said that they found it useful to explain and discuss with an intelligent but non-political person.” Also one who’s been on the throne since 1952, has probably met more world leaders than anyone else alive, and has an unimaginable wealth of experience to draw on. I’m basically a UK Republican, but it would be a dream to sit in on one of those meetings. – Paul D. Waite Jul 10 '18 at 9:14
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    @DonFusili Pretty much. My understanding is that because the Queen has been involved in high level diplomacy and government function in the United Kingdom for 66 years, far more than almost anybody alive, she can offer great insight into previous events and occurrences and how they were dealt with. It wouldn't surprise me if she simply asked knowing questions. – SGR Jul 10 '18 at 9:16
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    @Trilarion There's lots of ways to exercise influence without giving direct advice, "What options other than invasion have you considered?", "Have you even considered options other than invasion?" and "So invasion is the best option?" are all just questions asking very similar things but certainly imply different things. And you can get much more direct while still not giving any direct or even indirect advice. Just by guiding the conversation. – DRF Jul 10 '18 at 10:18
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    Maybe the queen just acts as a rubber duck? – Pharap Jul 10 '18 at 14:39
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    @Pharap Not really, because she is intelligent. What it actually gives the PM is an opportunity for peer review. Everyone else he/she has contact with is tainted by their own commitments to their political parties and their careers, which are their primary concerns. The House of Lords does provide some long-term consistency, but party politics makes that unreliable too. The Queen is the only person the PM has professional contact with whose primary commitment is to the continued wellbeing of the UK as a whole, which allows her a longer-term viewpoint than any politician. – Graham Jul 10 '18 at 15:39

It is easy for a politician to get wrapped up in a "bubble" of their supporters, mostly meeting with lots of similar-thinking people.

If it goes too far, this can be dangerous.

Successful democracies often seem to have some kind of limitation or "check" on this tendency for people at the highest levels. The form of this check varies wildly. For example, in the Roman Republic, government proceedings against a Plebeian had to stop if a Tribune was present and shouted "I Object!" In the US, the Supreme Court and Congress are limitations on the President. In the UK, Parliament is one such limitation, but it may be filled with supporters of the PM, so the meeting with the Queen is another, in a different form. It forces the PM to talk with someone who may be thinking differently. That's useful in and of itself.

The Monarch is also watching out for the good of the country as a whole. He or she tends to stay a bit on the sidelines, out of the daily battles, but will get involved at critical times -- for example, if something really bad is happening, and the PM is not paying sufficient attention, or if it is becoming obvious that the PM needs to step down. If political opponents think the PM is a disaster, that may be easy to ignore. But if your Queen hints at that, the PM may be more likely to sit up and pay attention.

For all these reasons, the tradition is useful. Hence it survives.

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