‘The day has come!’: What the royal shake-up means for the monarchy’s power base

The King has requested parliament to legislate so his sister and brother can act for him while he's abroad or unwell.

The King has requested parliament to legislate so his sister and brother can act for him while he's abroad or unwell. Photo: Getty

As the King celebrated his 74th birthday on Monday with gun salutes across Britain, it was his decision to shake up the monarchy’s power base that grabbed all the headlines.

His first bold move since becoming monarch upon the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth on September 8 – the decision to promote two of his siblings to key roles and sideline his US-based son and disgraced brother – was always on the cards.

It was just finding the right moment.

In a statement delivered by the Vice-Chamberlain of the (Royal) Household, Jo Churchill, to the House of Lords on Monday, the King requested the number of counsellors of state be increased to include his sister Princess Anne, 72, and youngest brother Prince Edward, 57.

There are currently five counsellors (who act on behalf of the monarch and must be members of the royal family) to whom the King can delegate under certain circumstances.

He has just sought to increase it to seven. Deliberately.

By formally asking that the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex be included on the list to act for him while he is overseas or unwell, it effectively ensures the King’s youngest son, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, and his disgraced brother Andrew, the Duke of York, will never be called upon to deputise for him.

Permanently sidelined.

Royal Central UK podcaster and Jubilee editor Lydia Starbuck said the existing list was “too limited”, with three of the five not working royals.

“The current rules stipulate that the monarch’s spouse and the first four adults in the line of succession may take up the role,” she said.

“That means that Queen Camilla can be a counsellor of state along with the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of York and Princess Beatrice.”

But Prince Harry exited royal life in 2020 and moved with his wife, Archetypes podcaster Meghan Markle to California. The couple live in a $14 million Montecito gated community north of Los Angeles.

Prince Andrew will most likely never return to public life, stripped of most of his titles after a sex scandal over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

In February, he settled a multimillion-dollar US lawsuit in which he was accused of sexual abuse.

‘The day has come’

Part of the King’s statement read to both houses said: “I confirm that I would be most content should Parliament see fit for the number of people who may be called upon to act as Counsellors of State under the terms of The Regency acts 1937 to 1963 to be increased to include my sister and brother, the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex and Forfar.

“Both of whom have previously undertaken this role.’’

The news was welcomed across Britain, with royal watchers taking to social media to say “the day has come”.

One wrote: “There was never any doubt the King would take steps on counsellors of state … people forget it had been seven years since the late Queen travelled overseas.

“There was no way King Charles was going abroad for the first time as monarch with that status quo – and accompanying headlines.”

‘A no-brainer’

Debate has run hot in Britain in recent weeks about Prince Harry and Prince Andrew being removed from the list of deputees.

London tabloid UK Express even ran a poll on October 28, asking Britons what they thought about non-working royals still being able to deputise under the Regency Act (which has been varied nine times since 1728).

In the latest version of the act, from 1937, the positions can be held by the spouse of the sovereign and the next four royals aged over 21 in the line of succession, regardless of their status.

The question was asked: “Should King Charles III remove non-working royals as counsellors of state?”

A total of 15,219 people responded. The overwhelming majority, 98 per cent (14,926 people), answered “yes” in favour of the King removing non-working royals.

“It’s a no-brainer, really, of course he should,” wrote one respondent.

Username gillmags said: “Yes and get on with it, please. Should have been done a long while ago.”

Username jojune said: “It is absurd to have non-working members as Counsellors of State. The unqualified people who know nothing about the protocols or the role … is dangerous indeed.”

So what’s the job?

The inclusion of Princess Anne and Prince Edward means if the King can’t perform his official duties – because he is ill or out of the country –  “two or more counsellors of state are appointed by Letters Patent” can act in his place, according to the official website.

Counsellors of state are authorised to carry out most of the official duties of the sovereign. That includes attending Privy Council meetings, signing routine documents and receiving the credentials of new ambassadors to Britain.

But there are some core constitutional functions that may not be delegated, including the dissolving of Parliament, except on the King’s express instruction, the creation of peers and appointing a prime minister.

Anne and Edward were overwhelmingly lauded for their high-profile presence during the late Queen’s jubilee celebrations in June, and more recently for their outstanding roles in representing the monarchy during the two weeks of mourning following her death.

Princess Anne is involved with more than 300 charities, has a decades-long love for horses, and has been president of Save the Children since 1970.

Prince Edward supported the late Queen alongside his wife Sophie, the Countess of Wessex, in recent years. They were often seen as the couple closest to the late monarch.

Their additional responsibilities as stand-ins for the King will come soon enough.

After the coronation on May 6 next year, the King and Queen Consort plan to travel overseas in what is being described as a “two-year blitz of foreign travel”. It is expected to include a trip to Australia for the 200th anniversary of democracy.

Another 14 countries are shortlisted, including Canada, India, Pakistan and the Caribbean.

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