When the Sun newspaper breathlessly reported in March that Queen Elizabeth II was in favour of Britain leaving the European Union—”Queen backs Brexit,” screamed the headline—the royal household shot back with astounding fury, insisting the Queen is always “politically neutral.” Last month, the press watchdog ruled against the Sun, stating: “The headline–both in print and online–was not supported by the text and was significantly misleading. The headline contained a serious and unsupported allegation that the Queen had fundamentally breached her constitutional obligations in the context of a vitally important national debate. Furthermore, it did not follow from the comments the article reported that the Queen wanted the U.K. to leave the EU as a result of the referendum: that suggestion was conjecture and the Committee noted that none of those quoted in the story were reported as making such a claim.”
Now, questions are again being raised about her views. So, to help everyone, a FAQ on what the Queen believes, knows and can do regarding the Brexit referendum:
- Can she vote? Technically yes, she has the legal right to cast a ballot. However, as head of state, convention dictates that she not take sides when it comes to politics. The royal website states, “As head of state, the Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters, unable to vote or stand for election.” Indeed, politicians of all parties have noted that she’s maintained that policy during her entire 64-year reign. (She also doesn’t have a passport or driver’s licence.)
- Can the rest of the royal family vote? Again, technically yes. However, high-profile members—such as Prince Charles, his siblings and their children—don’t head to polling places for the same reason as the Queen. Prince Harry’s stock answer is, “I’m not allowed to vote,” the Independent revealed. However, for members of the extended royal family who don’t carry out public duties mentioned in the official Court Circular, voting is certainly an option.
- So what does the Queen really think about Brexit? Who knows? She doesn’t talk about it in public, though it’s likely come up in her weekly audiences with Prime Minister David Cameron. However those meetings are strictly confidential, and only include the sovereign and her first minister. On Tuesday, royal biographer Robert Lacey reported on the Daily Beast that she’d asked dinner companions, “Give me three good reasons why Britain should be part of Europe?” The British press went wild, speculating on the Queen’s motives. Lacey believes it suggests she supports Brexit. Constitutional scholars have treated the “revelation” with skepticism, given her long record of total neutrality, especially given the divisive nature of this referendum.
- But hasn’t she dropped hints? It’s easy to read intent into her speeches and comments. For instance, for all the incidents that seem to imply she supports Brexit, this sentence in her speech thanking everyone on her 90th birthday could be interpreted as support for remaining part of the European Union: “I hope these happy celebrations will remind us of the many benefits that can flow when people come together for a common purpose as families friends or neighbours.” In 2014, as the Scottish independence referendum drew close, she told a well-wisher outside church to “think carefully about the future.” Pundits expended way too much energy analyzing those five rather innocuous words.
She likely wasn’t supporting a move by Scottish nationalists to break up her kingdom, but is too aware of her constitutional duties to verbalize that displeasure publicly. And if that threat won’t get her to break her constitutional role, it’s hard to see her doing so over the Brexit referendum. Still, she’s likely to be watching the results on the TV. Because the aftermath will affect everyone, from monarch to newest subject.