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A report from Buzzfeed claims that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government is:

Exploring what the consequences would be if Johnson advised the Queen not to give royal assent to any legislation passed by Parliament delaying Brexit.

I understand that the Queen is usually expected to act on the advice of her Prime Minister, as we've seen in the last few days with her agreeing to prorogue Parliament at the PM's request, but what happens if that advice is in conflict with legislation passed by Parliament against the PM's wishes?

Is there any precedent or legislation that explains what might happen, or what has happened in the past, in this scenario?

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    Relevant article: ukconstitutionallaw.org/2019/01/22/… – Steve Melnikoff Aug 30 '19 at 9:24
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    “...in conflict with legislation passed by Parliament”. It’s not actually passed until it’s received Assent from the Queen as “Queen-in-Parliament” – owjburnham Aug 30 '19 at 11:54
  • Nothing more recent than 1703, during the reign of Queen Anne, which is when it last happened. – WS2 Sep 5 '19 at 17:40
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What is supposed to happen in these cases is a vote of no confidence.

If Boris advises the Queen to withhold her assent to a bill which has passed both houses, then she has to follow that advice. But in this case, he would clearly not be able to command the confidence of Parliament. A vote of no confidence would either bring in a new PM, who could then tell the Queen to give her assent. Or it would lead to a General Election. If Boris won the election (or if he won the vote of confidence) then he could clearly claim to have the backing of Parliament (and the country if it followed an election) to block the bill: a legitimate use of the reserve power of the crown.

Such situations would be exceptional. In normal times there is no way that a bill that the government opposes would ever get anywhere near royal assent. Government bills have priority of time, so any private member's bill that the government opposed would die of lack of time, even if it had wide support in both houses. But these are not normal times, and there is the possibility that a bill could be passed that the government opposes. This could bring the question of Royal assent into play for the first time in 300 years.

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  • "A vote of no confidence would either bring in a new PM, who could then tell the Queen to give her assent." - Apparently Number 10 is considering ignoring a vote of no confidence. – Lag Aug 31 '19 at 11:09
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    That's one of the few cases where a monarch in a constitutional monarchy might just decide to be old-fashioned again, and not ignore that vote of no confidence. Since it's all basically unwritten rules, there is no clear priority order in them. And the monarch might not even need to exercise this power; the threat alone is viable. Imagine the Queen telling BoJo that she'll dismiss him if he doesn't leave voluntarily after such a vote. What is he going to do, call her bluff? – MSalters Aug 31 '19 at 22:36
  • @lag No, number 10 is apparently considering whether, follow losing a confidence vote, would they be able to force a general election. Or would they have to allow another MP to attempt to pass a confidence vote. This is actually an interesting question, without settled precedent. What nobody is suggesting is simply ignoring a confidence vote. – James K Aug 31 '19 at 22:46
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    @Miech: a VoNC is not a bill, it's just a resolution of the house, so Royal Assent is not required (nor the agreement of the House of Lords). – Steve Melnikoff Sep 5 '19 at 8:59
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    @JamesK: the PM doesn't have to resign, no. For example, the last time a government lost a VoNC, in 1979, the PM didn't resign; instead he called an election. This was before the FTPA, so other aspects of the procedures were different; but the convention re resignation is not covered by the FTPA, so I'd argue that that remains the same. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 5 '19 at 9:01

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