Which Royals might step in to help the Queen?
Aides reportedly drafting plans to extend ‘elite group’ authorised to deputise for Her Majesty amid health worries
Concerns about the Queen’s well-being have prompted proposals to expand the pool of senior Royals allowed to carry out duties on her behalf, according to insiders.
Under the 1937 Regency Act, counsellors of state are authorised to carry out most of the monarch’s official duties if she is overseas or incapacitated. By law, explained Royal.uk, these royal deputies should “include the sovereign’s spouse and the next four people in the line of succession who are over the age of 21”.
Following the death of Prince Philip earlier this year, that leaves the Prince of Wales and the dukes of Cambridge, Sussex and York currently authorised to step in to help as the Queen follows doctors’ advice to rest for at least the next two weeks following a bout of illness.
But “constitutional experts have raised concerns about Prince Harry and Prince Andrew’s ability to deputise”, The Times reported. Both have stepped back from royal duties, and Prince Andrew remains mired in scandal over his links to late convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
Under the current arrangement, Princess Beatrice would be next in line to become a counsellor of state. But according to The Mail on Sunday, sources say that royal aides are also drafting plans for the Duchess of Cornwall to be appointed to the “elite group”, despite not being in line to the throne.
Dr Craig Prescott, a royal expert at Bangor University, told the paper that “it would be quite easy to amend the Regency Act and allow other members of the royal family to act as counsellors of state”, which “would make the whole thing more flexible”.
Camilla would automatically “become a counsellor of state when Charles is king anyway”, Prescott added.
The next over-21 in line for the throne after Princess Beatrice is her sister Princess Eugenie, followed by Prince Edward and Princess Anne. Despite being the Queen's second-eldest child, Anne was born at a time when being female meant being leap-frogged by her brothers in the line of succession. The birth of her nieces and nephews and their children have pushed her even further down the order.
Two counsellors of state are required to act together in a “quorum” to perform crucial functions, such as providing royal assent to bills passing through Parliament and appointing High Court judges. Without such approvals, these functions of government cannot be enacted. However, counsellors cannot dissolve Parliament or appoint a prime minister.
Concerns were first raised for Her Majesty’s health on 20 October, when she cancelled a trip to Northern Ireland at short notice. Buckingham Palace said she had been told to rest by her doctors. A spokesperson admitted two days later that the Queen had gone for “preliminary tests” at the private King Edward VII Hospital in central London – her first overnight stay in hospital in eight years.
The Queen also pulled out of attending the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in person, where she had been due to host a major reception with world leaders.