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[I'm going to use the current Brexit example, but my question extends to other similar circumstances]

Certain situation require a bill be made into law in a timely manner, as with the blocking of no deal Brexit (if it isn't blocked before the current deadline for Brexit, the bill becomes pointless). My current understanding of royal assent is that the sovereign either in person or via commissioners of the crown must give royal assent, basically an OK, I allow this, before any bill can come into force as law.

Given the above I can think of a few possible scenarios whereby the sovereign is still compos mentis but due to some situation or another is unable to give royal assent in a short time span. As a simple example, imagine extremely poor weather causing a communication outage - this could easily delay royal assent for a day. There are as many others as you can imagine, but that's not the point of this question. Given a situation where the sovereign is still compos mentis, and is not intentionally delaying the process is there a contingency plan for a bill becoming law?

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I'm speculating, but if the problem was just a communications issue, I imagine that someone could be sent from Parliament to wherever the Queen happened to be at the time, with Letters Patent ready for her to sign, and they could then return them to Parliament.

At that point, Royal Assent could be announced to each house by its speaker under the Royal Assent Act 1967, instead of the ceremony involving Lords Commissioners.

However, in all but the most extreme cases, granting Royal Assent is simply not that urgent. As discussed in another question, while Royal Assent should not be delayed unnecessarily, a few days rarely makes any difference.

Even in the case of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill, which was certainly regarded as urgent, it finished its passage through Parliament today (Friday), but won't receive Royal Assent until Monday.

If the Queen is ill or out of the country, under the Regency Act 1937, she can delegate most of her powers (including granting Royal Assent) to Counsellors of State. They are senior members of the royal family, appointed by the Queen, and any two of them can carry out functions in her name until she is able to resume her duties. However, this delegation is not automatic; the Queen has to issue letters patent in order for it to take effect.

If the Queen is "for some definite cause not available" (as determined by a specified group of 5 people*) a regent can be appointed to act in her place, with the regent being the next person in the line of succession over the age of 21 (or if that person is unavailable, the next eligible person). The regent has the power to grant Royal Assent (with minor restrictions).

(* The consort of the Sovereign, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Lord Chief Justice of England and the Master of the Rolls.)

  • @phoog: Yup; corrected. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 6 at 22:59
  • Thanks for the answer. I'm more looking at the hypothetical situation where the queen is unreachable in an unforeseen circumstance (ie. No Councillors of state appointed) – user6916458 Sep 6 at 23:14
  • Unless the councellors of state are always appointed for this role (eg. There's one appointed right now, and next week, and next year) – user6916458 Sep 6 at 23:16
  • @user6916458: there are 4 Counsellors of State currently appointed; have updated my answer. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 6 at 23:56
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    @user6916458: it can be; but I've added more material to my answer about the appointment of a regent, since that covers unforeseen circumstances. – Steve Melnikoff Sep 7 at 0:06

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