According to this answer on Theresa May's successor:

The party will now elect a new leader, and May will then resign as PM, and recommend to the Queen that her successor as Conservative leader is appointed as PM.

Is the Queen actually required by law to appoint the new Conservative leader? Could Parliament or the courts do anything about it if she didn't? I'm asking this because "recommend" is pretty weak language that I've seen in other places talking about this process.

3 Answers 3


Could Parliament or the courts do anything about it if she didn't?

Parliament could change the law such that the monarch (currently a queen but sometimes a king) is required to follow the outgoing Prime Minister's recommendation. Or follow the will of Parliament. Or remove the monarch from the process entirely.

Monarchs have recently been reluctant to break customs like this, as breaking it would lead to the power being removed in most cases. But it is valuable as a backstop. For example, if one party abused quorum rules to make a Prime Minister recommendation with a minority of the vote, the monarch could refuse to accept it, giving the other parties a chance to participate and overturn the decision. Or the queen could dissolve a government if it became totally dysfunctional but stuck within the necessary rules to continue. But the assumption here is that everyone else would agree with the basic problem.

If Parliament disagrees, they could take away the monarch's powers the way that they took power from the House of Lords.

  • How can the law possibly require the monarch to do anything? They are the Queen's courts. Britain has no written constitution and basically the Queen can do anything she likes. But, importantly, she doesn't simply do what she likes. She follows precedent and convention. Her power rests on the fact that she enjoys more widespread respect and popularity than any politician.
    – WS2
    Commented May 25, 2019 at 15:44
  • 1
    @WS2 "the Queen can do anything she likes" Not without consequences.
    – Polygnome
    Commented May 25, 2019 at 16:22
  • @WS2: the monarch's powers are limited, for example by the Bill of Rights 1689. Commented May 25, 2019 at 16:37
  • Note that the Cabinet Office has gone to some trouble (for example during the formation of the coalition government in 2010) to avoid the Queen ever having to get involved in political decisions. In theory, the Commons could follow the practice used in other parliaments, and nominate someone to be PM - not unlike the way it already nominates the Speaker (the Speaker is formally appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Commons). Commented May 25, 2019 at 16:42
  • @WS2 Parliament has all of the actual power. They can grant or remove powers from the monarch, or abolish it entirely, if they so please by passing legislation. Indeed they quite recently removed the monarch's ability to dissolve a parliament with the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. Note, however, that this is different from dissolving the Government, as mentioned in this answer, as those are ultimately distinct institutions. Commented May 25, 2019 at 17:08

The legal and political situation in the UK is the result of centuries of gradual change, with tradition playing a key role.

The Queen is supposed to appoint the person most likely to enjoy the confidence of the House of Commons as PM. Recently that was the leader of the conservatives. Today (May 25th, 2019) I don't see any other person who appears more likely, but that may change if the situation gets more chaotic. Notably, the Queen would not automatically have to appoint the leader of the largest party if that leader has no outright majority and no prospects of forming a coalition.


What difference would a "law" make?

The current constitutional settlement is that the Queen, in making an appointment, acts on the advice of her ministers, and her ministers advise her to appoint the person who leads a party or coalition that commands a majority of the House of Commons.

Suppose she didn't. Suppose she decided to appoint someone else. Then the "rightful" Prime Minister would lead the House, and if necessary the Army, and remove the appointed PM and probably remove the Queen as well.

Suppose there was a law, and the Queen broke the law and appointed someone else. Then the "rightful" Prime Minister would lead the House, and if necessary the Army, and remove the appointed PM and probably remove the Queen as well.

The "Law" or the "Constitution" can only define what should be done in normal situations. It can't define what the Queen can do unconstitutionally.

So forget all about the Queen acting politically in any way at all. All matters of the Queen's political power are done by her ministers. She has absolutely no say in who she wants to be Prime Minister.

  • When Clement Atlee was called to the palace by King George VI after Labour's 1945 general election victory, there had been discussion in the press about the suitability of Ernest Bevin for the job of Foreign Secretary. A trade union leader he had served with distinction in Churchill's wartime coalition - but his speeches were laden with grammatical errors, mispronunciations and malapropisms. To follow an FS of metropolitan charm like Anthony Eden, Bevin seemed a step too far for Labour. Atlee had, it is said, decided to appoint Hugh Dalton. (continued)
    – WS2
    Commented May 25, 2019 at 17:33
  • However the king is supposed to have said to Atlee "Who do you intend to make Foreign Secretary", to which Atlee replied "Dalton". Then, according to the historian Lord (Alan) Bullock the king said something to the effect of "What's wrong with Ernie Bevin?". And thus with the king's endorsement Bevin was made Foreign Secretary - the man largely responsible, with our US allies, for events like the Berlin Airlift and the setting up of NATO. And one of those sometimes regarded as "the best PM we never had".
    – WS2
    Commented May 25, 2019 at 18:08
  • 1
    But if Attlee had said, no, the King would have had nothing further to say. The king's de jure power is great, as is the kings de facto influence. But the two don't overlap.
    – James K
    Commented May 25, 2019 at 18:31

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