In a presidential republic like, say, America, there are executive powers afforded to the President; for example the power to veto legislation. In the United Kingdom, as I understand it, the powers of the executive rest with a mix of the Government and the Crown - although in practice the Monarch acts on the advice of the Government.

To come to my question; what are the powers specifically afforded solely to the Prime Minister; that he could exercise on his/her own - even without the support of Cabinet or Parliament?

1 Answer 1


By literal definition? None. In effect? Quite a lot.

The PM does effectively have the power of the crown at their disposal and may implement specific actions under the Royal Prerogative. Officially, these are actions enacted by the monarch on the advice of the PM, but (as recently occurred with the prorogation), the Queen follows the government's advice without public comment on the matter.

However, the extent of the Royal Prerogative is hazy to say the least.

The prerogative appears to be historically and as a matter of fact nothing else than the residue of discretionary or arbitrary authority which at any given time is legally left in the hands of the crown. The prerogative is the name of the remaining portion of the Crown's original authority ... Every act which the executive government can lawfully do without the authority of an Act of Parliament is done in virtue of the prerogative.

~ A.V. Dicey, 19th Century constitutional theorist

Any actions taken by the PM using this authority are subject to appeal in the courts and it is the judiciary who would be the final arbiters post facto. Parliament, however, remains supreme and they could countermand any executive actions by the Prime Minister (provided they are sitting and parliamentary process allows).

In terms of what actions are taken via Royal Prerogative; Pardons, Declarations of War or Peace, Dissolution of Parliament, Signing of Treaties, and (ironically) appointing the Prime Minister, are the most commonly used. The majority of times these are enacted is done with the prior approval of Parliament.

There was the suggestion in 2017 that Theresa May may use the Royal Prerogative to issue the notification of Article 50 (the start of the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union), however it was decided in court that the power to do so resided with Parliament not with the Crown. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R_(Miller)_v_Secretary_of_State_for_Exiting_the_European_Union

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    The terms Royal Prerogative and Henry VIII powers are not synonymous. Henry VIII powers are those provided for in Acts of Parliament that give the Government the power to change Acts of Parliament. parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/henry-viii-clauses erskinemay.parliament.uk/section/5613/… The Prerogative is as the Dicey quote says.
    – Lag
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:24
  • @Lag. Fair enough. I've removed the reference from my answer. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:25
  • Sorry, I didn't mean that the PM doesn't have Henry VIII powers, I only meant that they are not the same as the prerogative powers.
    – Lag
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:15
  • But you are correct, these aren't the same, as it's about the ability to pass secondary legislation which is not limited to the PM. Even the courts can create secondary legislation. The Henry VIII rules might be peculiar to the PM, but like all secondary legislation, they'd require at least some input from parliament first. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 6:25

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