In the aftermath of Queen Elizabeth II's death, some news outlets had started speculating what kind of monarch her successor - King Charles III - would be.

Much has been said about King Charles' more outspoken positions on certain policy areas, such as the environment and immigration. Likewise, his heir apparent - Prince William - is also outspoken on social issues like mental health.

This leads to questions as to whether he - as the monarch - is permitted to express opinions on these policy areas, provided that he does not interfere with the daily functioning of the Government or Parliament. For example, he may publicly begrudge the Government doing little on mitigating climate crisis, but he nevertheless must ratify bills which enable such policy.

Bear in mind that this is not without precedent. For example, Germany's head of state (i.e. German President) is a ceremonial office, but is still culturally permitted to express political positions to guide public discourse. Evidently, Germany has not burned to the ground just because their head of state has opinions.

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    This question could specify more what "permitted" means here. By whom? Parliament? Typically everything that is not forbidden is permitted. That the previous kings and queens didn't do something doesn't mean that future ones can't do it if they wanted to but maybe they still don't dare doing it. Sep 10, 2022 at 6:47
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    For one point of reference, the 1990s fictional drama series To Play The King (the sequel to the UK series House Of Cards) featured a new king who did make his political views clearly known, though he stopped short of actively campaigning or openly criticising his government. Spoiler alert: as a result of this, at the end of series he was forced to abdicate. Since the series stuck closely to existing practice and precedent, that's clearly not an unrealistic prospect.
    – gidds
    Sep 10, 2022 at 17:06
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    @PatrickT King Edward was forced to abdicate because he was marrying an American divorcee back when that conflicted with the moral stance of the Church of England, not because he supported the Nazis.
    – nick012000
    Sep 11, 2022 at 5:19
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    The comparison with the German federal president doesn't really apply. That's an elected office, not a hereditary one. And the people elected for it are almost always renowned politicians. They don't get elected despite but because of the political slant they are expected to give to the office.
    – Philipp
    Sep 12, 2022 at 13:25
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    @nick012000 - as early as a month of Edward’s accession in 1936, Warren Fisher (head of the Home Civil Service), Maurice Hankey (Cabinet Secretary) and Robert Vansittart (Foreign Office Permanent Secretary) met to discuss disquiet about Edward's handling of confidential State papers. Anthony Eden, (Foreign Secretary), Vansittart said, believed that Mrs Simpson was ‘in the pocket’ of the German ambassador. Plans were drawn up for a George III style regency if it could be contrived to get Edward certified as mad. His decision to marry Simpson was the opportunity that the Establishment needed. Sep 13, 2022 at 8:19

6 Answers 6


A question of written rules, unwritten rules, and bending or breaking them.

The UK political system developed from a monarchy to a democracy without the clean break of a final overthrow of the monarchy. That means formally, it is His Majesty's government, and the king can say what they king wants to say. Breaking the unwritten rules in an unpopular way would bolster republican sentiments, but since they are unwritten there is no clear boundary, just traditions which were also formed by the habits of the previous queen.

Comparing the king with the German president misses the point, the president is an elected political position with clearly described powers and the right to enter the national political debate.

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    @Trilarion one issue is that any political intervention risks alienating a part of the population. With an elected official the solution is clear, he just gets voted out of office, and it is part of the regular, accepted process. But a monarch can keep alienating the population until the people get fed with him and force him to abdicate or abolish the monarchy altogether. And due to the lack of a formal process, a sentiment that the monarch should abdicate could easily be transformed into an effect of abolishing the monarchy.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 10, 2022 at 7:11
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    It might seem tiny to us regular people, but there is quite a big difference between to the inauguration of a natural reserve and saying "I am pleased that you have created this" and saying "you should create more natural reserves." The later implies a mandate. For us the difference is minimal because we do not have the kind of influence that a monarch does have.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 10, 2022 at 10:28
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    @Trilarion "So because the king/queen is not elected, that may be seen as not having a right to take part in political debates?" government is replete with unelected political advisors that participate in political debates. Arguably the monarch has rather less political influence than a similarly wealthy citizen as they are constrained by these unwritten rules. Sep 10, 2022 at 17:16
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    Nice example of bending of unwritten rules: bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-40356113 Sep 10, 2022 at 17:20
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    Similarly, breaking the unwritten rules in a popular way would bolster the loyalty for the monarchy.
    – vsz
    Sep 11, 2022 at 12:40

As o.m. points out, questions like this tend to be much more intricate for the British political system than for many others. The constitution of the United Kingdom is not a unitary written document, but an amorphous combination of individual texts, precedents, judgements about fair play and good taste.

Having a law explicitly forbidding the monarch-as-a-human-being to make statements that could be construed as political really is not how this would be done. It would lead to all kinds of weirdness such as potential lawsuits against the human being wearing the crown, which would all be in very bad taste.

The idea that the monarch should not engage in day to day politics seems to have been around for a while. I've read about it being invoked regarding Queen Victoria, but I'm not sure when it started. But this is often discussed in the context of a statement by the monarch that is seen by the commentator as being a bit too political. So it's more been an aspiration rather than any strict regulation.

Queen Elizabeth II was apparently very strict about avoiding any impression of being engaged in political debate. Given her very long reign, this now makes it near impossible to distinguish whether it was her personal choice to act like this; or whether the expectations on the monarch have become much more restrictive.

Ultimately, the answer will be determined as usual regarding what exactly a British Monarch can and cannot do: We'll have to see how outspoken King Charles III dares to be, and if he can get away with it or not.

  • How is good taste part of the UK’s constitution? Or did you mean to use an "and" before "judgement"?
    – tchrist
    Sep 11, 2022 at 17:25
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    Common law holds that the King is immune to all lawsuits against his person. Sep 11, 2022 at 20:52
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    @Spitemaster: Then a law against the monarch making such statements would either override that, or be totally useless. Even more reason not to have such a law. Sep 12, 2022 at 2:44
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    @PeterCordes: "Totally useless" is a bit blunt. A law is normative (it states what should be) even when enforcement is limited.
    – MSalters
    Sep 12, 2022 at 14:07

One interesting thing about the shared monarchy, is that Charles isn't just king of the United Kingdom, but king of Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and the United Kingdom.

For each realm, the king is required by constitutional tradition (and possibly in some cases by a written constitution or statute) to act on the advice of that realm's prime minister.

The current New Zealand government likes making very strong statements on climate change (how well we live up to the rhetoric is beyond the scope of this answer). Hypothetically, the New Zealand government could ask Charles as King of New Zealand to head a delegation to an international conference and speak on climate change. His position would naturally be closer to one country's than the other.

The UK delegation could also ask this with a very different script. We would then have an interesting situation where the King of New Zealand and the King of the United Kingdom were publicly at odds with himself.

For a much more drastic precedent, the current King's grandfather was king of both the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan during the first Indo-Pakistani war (1947-1948)

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    Can Commonwealth nations really ask the monarch to do something like that? Canada has a Governor General as the monarch's representative, chosen by the monarch on the advice of the government of Canada. It's true that Charles is the official head of state of Canada, but I think any official request from Canada or New Zealand to make a political speech would be so far outside the realm of protocol and tradition that the monarch could ignore without repercussions. (I'm no expert on this, though.) Sep 12, 2022 at 2:50
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    @PeterCordes I don't know it's ever been tested, but the speech from the Throne at the state opening of the UK parliament is a political statement read from a document handed to her by the current government. When the Queen was here in 1954 she opened the NZ parliament and read a speech handed her by the then New Zealand Prime Minister Sidney Holland. The Governor General has powers and responsibilities delegated by the crown, but the crown retains those rights and responsibilities. Sep 12, 2022 at 6:33
  • Ok sure, but the speech from the throne is well understood as being the government's statements, with the monarch (or the governor general in their place) merely delivering the message. Outside of that ceremonial duty, things like sending them to a conference to say their own words is extremely different. And sending them to read a statement which everyone knew was written by the politician would be half way in between; they might do it as long as nobody would construe that as the monarch themselves expressing those opinions. (Unless they really wanted to jump into the deep end.) Sep 12, 2022 at 6:42
  • @PeterCordes: The problem is that it's not just "the government's statements". It's officially "His Majesty's government's statements", delivered in this example by the King himself. IMO the practical resolution is that the King speaks for the country as a whole, since countries are abstract entities and can't speak for themselves. And this only works well when there is a broad national consensus - speaking for 52% of the country is asking for problems.
    – MSalters
    Sep 12, 2022 at 14:16
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    Somewhat related, Canadian and UK prime ministers gave contrary advice directly to Her Majesty (but of course in respectively in her right of Canada and of the UK) on Conrad Black's peerage appointment. The matter is eventually resolved by Black renouncing his Canadian citizenship, but technically could have resulted in a full blown constitutional crisis if both prime ministers insisted on their advice.
    – xngtng
    Sep 12, 2022 at 17:00

he - as the monarch - is permitted to express opinions on these policy areas

That depends on the circumstances. The traditional address at the opening of each Parliamentary season where the Monarch just reads a given script would not be a place for personal opinions. Neither the point where royal assent is needed for a law becoming law or when appointing Ministers and all the other duties.

As head of the nation the British Monarch is just something like an automatic device performing his/her duties (more ceremoniously than actually productive) without any need or demand for personal opinions.

However, when not doing the royal duties, even the British monarch must enjoy all the rights any ordinary British citizen has like freedom of speech (see for example article 10 Human rights act 1998). This means he or she would be permitted to say pretty much what they want within some borders. So a big yes here for the permission to have and being able to publish a political opinion.

Whether it is actually prudent to do so is another matter. One possibility would be to go the way of the German president and try to be some sort of national conscience, connection to all the people, not just unpolitical embodiment of the state. It might even give him/her more purpose in the political system, otherwise people might start asking what constitutional monarchs are actually good for. But it also might make things just more complicated and actually interfere with the ceremonial duties of the monarch. So maybe it's better if the monarch refrains from directly taking part in the political discourse, which would be his/her right as every citizen, and use his indirect influence instead. Also being king or queen is quite some compensation for better not speaking ones mind in public.

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    Source for the King being a British citizen protected by the ECHR? This is not trivial. A similar discussion came up in the context of the EU requirement that members be functioning democracies. Europe recognizes the unique situation of monarchs.
    – MSalters
    Sep 12, 2022 at 14:31
  • @MSalters The British Monarch is not a British citizen? Sounds a bit strange to me but I will search for that. Sep 12, 2022 at 21:15
  • I checked UK law, and it seems the King became a citizen as part of the reorganization of British subjects into Commonwealth citizens. A King of course can't be his own subject. The remaining "British subjects" are now a small group of people who are not British citizens, and likely outside ECHR jurisdiction, but the King is not among those.
    – MSalters
    Sep 12, 2022 at 22:00
  • @MSalters human rights pertain to everyone regardless of nationality or lack thereof. The ECHR applies to "everyone" who is within the jurisdiction of a state that has ratified it. But the ECHR recognizes explicitly that freedom of expression is not absolute. It's also not at all clear that a duty of neutrality imposed on a head of state or other constitutional officer (king, president, judge, etc.) constitutes an infringement on the ECHR right of free expression.
    – phoog
    Sep 13, 2022 at 8:31
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    @phoog: That's the sort of problem I hinted at : The King is above the jurisdiction of the UK. Not a problem unique to the UK, though. The Dutch King legally cannot express a purely personal opinion. Any expression is de jure a statement for which his government is responsible.
    – MSalters
    Sep 13, 2022 at 8:35

Living memory has not known a monarch other than Queen Elizabeth II for 70 years now (1952-2022). Before her we had a series of short-lived Kings: George VI (1936-1952), Edward VIII (1936), George V (1910-1936), Edward VII (1901-1910) after Queen Victoria (1837-1901).

There is a combination of unwritten constitutional rules at play, along with tradition, precedent and Queen Elizabeth II's personal style.

The symbolic job of King Charles is to carry the burden of absolute power but never to actually use it, thus preventing anybody else from carrying such a burden and being corrupted by it.

As Prince Charles, he was known for his "black spider memos" to lobby MPs behind-the-scenes on issues of activist policy.

The question of where activism crosses the line into politics is a delicate one. Issues such as the environment might be considered safe cross-party issues that are not seen to favour one political party over the other. As a Prince, he might have considered himself to have more leeway in speaking his mind as an activist. As a King, we will have to see how he readjusts himself to his mother's role.

The Sword of Damocles however is that if he misjudges the public mood, there is the risk of a Republican uprising threatening to end the institution of monarchy forever. They will be looking for any excuse they can find.

  • Anything the King says is a Royal Command, ipso facto interfering in the matter? Sep 13, 2022 at 5:03

The premise of the question seems flawed. The King expressing an opinion (on any matter) is effectively a Royal Command; and issuing Royal Commands on matters rightly before Parliament would be (taken as) actual interference.

It's not so much whether the King is permitted as that it seems to be a logical impossibility.

The question may be whether or to what extent King Charles will express opinions on politics, thereby actually interfering with government policies and triggering a constitutional crisis; and what Parliament and others will do about it if so. Certainly a lot of the other answers seem to be taking it that way. However, that's a fundamentally different question.

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