De-jure, the Queen is the supreme ruler of the UK and retains significant decision-making power. But in practice she is obliged to follow the instructions of Parliament and the Prime Minister.

Practically speaking, does the Queen retain any decision-making power in British politics? Or is she a mere figurehead with zero real authority?

NB: this is intended as a canonical question about the UK monarchy, as suggested in my previous Meta post

  • 2
    What are you seeking here? The Legal answer (in which case, you're on the wrong StackExchange), or the Political one?
    – Dan Scally
    Commented Oct 3, 2019 at 10:37
  • @DanScally strictly political one Commented Oct 3, 2019 at 16:40
  • I hope this question becomes a dupe target. There are so many "why doesn't the queen ..." Qs. Commented Oct 3, 2019 at 21:45
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    Yes, though that answer lacks sources too. Ideally this would be supported by relevant sources from academia or institutions that have authority on this matter. Of course it's difficult with there not being a written constitution and a lot relying on tradition, but there's probably something out there somewhere to support it more convincingly.
    – JJJ
    Commented Oct 4, 2019 at 1:24

1 Answer 1


Very few. The only one I am immediately aware of is the selection of members of the Order of the Garter: the highest order of honour in the UK honours system, and so part of the system of the state. This remains in the personal gift of the Monarch.

This hasn't always been the case, and from the 18th century, nominations were made on the advice of ministers. Clement Atlee restored to the king the power to create Knight Companions of the Order of the Garter without consultation with the government in 1946.

The Order of Merit (founded in 1902) similarly is in the personal gift of the Royal Household (ie the Queen and her non-ministerial advisers)

In extreme circumstances, the reserve powers exist. But they exist when the government is acting extraconstitutionally. The reserve powers are not part of the constitutional system of government. Thus the armed services swear allegiance to the Queen. If a Prime Minister were to declare themself to be a dictator, the Queen could order the army to depose them. But clearly neither a dictatorship nor the military coup is constitutional.

In nearly all other actions of the state, the queen acts on advice. The current monarch has repeately shown no desire to be involved in a political decision.


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