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Can King Charles III and the Royal Family Vote in General Elections?

The U.K. is headed for a general election on July 4, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak requested that King Charles III dissolve parliament.

  • May 24 2024
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King Charles III And Queen Camilla Host Diplomatic Reception

The U.K. is headed for a general election on July 4, after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak requested that King Charles III dissolve parliament earlier this week, sooner than many analysts expected. While the U.K. has transitioned to a parliamentary democracy over the last few centuries, the monarchy still plays a symbolic role in many aspects of the U.K.’s governance structure.

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Legally, the King and the rest of the royal family are allowed to vote, says Robert Blackburn, a professor of constitutional law at King’s College London. “The King and active members of the royal family can legally cast a vote at general elections on the same basis as other eligible citizens, but in practice do not do so for obvious reasons, especially because it would cause a furore of media speculation and violate the constitutional requirement today that they maintain a strict party political impartiality,” Blackburn tells TIME via email. 

British monarchs once had significant political power, but their power has been gradually reduced over the last three hundred years or so, says royal commentator Richard Fitzwilliams. The last time a monarch used their power to essentially veto a bill passed by parliament was in 1708, when Queen Anne refused to sign the Scottish Militia Bill which would have provided arms to Scottish militias.

However, monarchs continued to be involved in politics for centuries longer. The last time a monarch is believed to have expressed an overt preference for the selection of the Prime Minister over another was in 1894, when Queen Victoria outwardly expressed her support of the Whig party over the Tory party. 

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“Things changed [gradually], not by revolution, that’s what has characterized the British political scene,” Fitzwilliams tells TIME. By the time Queen Elizabeth II came to power in 1952, the monarchy’s role in politics had been greatly reduced. Nevertheless, even Elizabeth had more political power than many may realize. “Queen Elizabeth II had the final choice in the selection of a leader for the Conservative party until the early 1960s,” says Fitzwilliams.

In 1963, when British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan resigned, the Queen appointed Lord Alec-Douglas-Home over Rab Butler, who was considered to be the favorite, to much controversy. Shortly afterwards in 1965, the Conservative party decided that they would elect their next leader instead of relying on the Queen’s choice. 

Ahead of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, when Scotland voted on whether or not to become independent from the U.K., the Queen made headlines on account of a comment she made. When talking to a well-wisher near her Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, Her Majesty reportedly said  that she hoped “people will think very carefully about the future.” 

During that period, Buckingham Palace argued that the Queen is “above politics.”

“The monarch is above politics and those in political office have a duty to ensure that this remains the case. Any suggestion that the Queen would wish to influence the outcome of the current referendum campaign is categorically wrong,” a Buckingham Palace statement read.

Ultimately, Elizabeth went on to become known for her strong policy of political neutrality, and this has become the adopted policy of Buckingham Palace, to remain disengaged from matters of politics. As a result, the King abstains from elections to this day. However, on paper, the monarch does still hold the power to prevent laws from being passed, prevent elections from being called, and oversee many other formalities within the British government.


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