The title in a recent article in The New York Times captures the confusion around Queen Elizabeth’s agreement with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to suspend Parliament:
“Britain’s Queen Is a Figurehead, but She Just Got Dragged Into Brexit Politics”
How could such a thing happen? The United Kingdom is one of the world’s oldest democracies, but an unelected Queen was able to exercise such power? Furthermore, she did it “for” the controversial Boris Johnson. Those opposed to a no-deal Brexit were actually hoping that the Queen would not agree to s suspension. Those who were hoping for such were not familiar with the role and history of the British monarch and this Queen in particular. The head of state in the UK (the Queen) and the head of government (the Prime Minister) are two very separate entities. Not taking action was the only appropriate response by the Queen. For her to oppose Johnson was to take action, for her to agree with Johnson was to defer to the one elected. For her and for any appropriately acting British monarch, there was no other action she could take.
In other words, Queen Elizabeth actually chose NOT to exercise power when she deferred to the Prime Minister.
The New York Times article continues, “Yet constitutional experts say that Queen Elizabeth, the world’s longest-serving monarch, had little sway over the matter. As the head of state in a constitutional monarchy, she is considered politically neutral, with limited decision-making powers.
“’What it means in practice is that she basically doesn’t have any discretion,’ said Asif Hameed, a lecturer in law at the University of Southampton. ‘In our political system she is the head of state, but she is not supposed to be governing — that’s left to the elected government.’
“In this case, two constitutional conventions came into play: One that says the monarch is obliged to follow the advice of the government in power, and another that requires her political neutrality.
“So when Mr. Johnson approached the queen about suspending Parliament, she was obligated to act on that advice.”
Much of the United States media has been “disgusted” by the actions of the Prime Minister, believing he inappropriately pulled the Queen into a political matter.
CNN wrote “Boris Johnson put the Queen in an absurdly awkward position.”
The response by US media displays either ignorance about the UK’s political system, its disdain of rule of law, or all of the above.
The suspension of Parliament is known as prorogation. The power to prorogue Parliament belongs to the Monarch as part of the Royal Prerogative, based on the advice of the Privy Council. It is rarely refused if requested by the prime minister. Johnson needed this done in order to fulfill what he believed he was elected to do. The Queen simply believes (correctly) she had no option but to support it, based on the modern role of the monarchy.
For an excellent explanation of the situation, read BBC’s answers to readers on the subject.