9 Things Queen Elizabeth II Actually Has the Power to Do
You may mostly see her giving to charity and rocking neon outfits, but Great Britain’s reigning monarch does have some very real governmental power.
The Queen opens Parliament sessions
Parliament, not the royal family, is the United Kingdom’s highest governing body… and yet Queen Elizabeth II does still have some power over this legislative group containing hundreds of individuals. Namely, she must officially open Parliament every May to commence the Parliamentary year. The ceremony is elaborate and steeped in tradition; the Queen must lead a procession through the Royal Gallery at the Palace of Westminster, wear the Imperial State Crown, and give a formal address to both Houses of Parliament. This is the only ceremonial event where the House of Lords, the House of Commons, and the Queen herself gather in the same space.
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Parliament may have the power to make the laws, but the Queen must sign off on a proposed bill before it officially goes into effect. She must give what’s known as “royal assent,” which means that she approves the proposed law (or doesn’t!). However, this power to reject laws is, to say the least, not something that comes into play very often. The last time a monarch didn’t grant royal assent was in 1708, when Queen Anne vetoed a measure that would’ve restored the Scottish militia.
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Appoint Ministers to the Crown
Most government officials in the United Kingdom are chosen through a vote, but the Queen can appoint Ministers to the Crown, including advisers and cabinet officials, herself. She most frequently chooses from the existing members of Parliament. This ability isn’t unique to the Queen, though; the Prime Minister has the power to appoint Ministers to the Crown as well.
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If she sees fit, Queen Elizabeth II can grant “royal pardon” to anyone convicted of a crime. This is another power, though, that she doesn’t use much nowadays. The original purpose of “royal pardon” was to provide exemption from the now-abolished death penalty. The practice of royal pardon is less common today, but the Queen did use it to grant a posthumous pardon to World War II codebreaker Alan Turing in 2013. It can also reduce prison sentences, which it recently did in 2001. Two inmates in a South Wales prison jumped into action to save a prison worker’s life after he was attacked by a wild boar. The monarch made the decision that their heroics had earned them a little time off their sentences.
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Any citizen of the United Kingdom with a passport has that passport thanks to the Queen. The Queen herself doesn’t usually issue them directly, though; ministers will usually be the ones to issue passports, on her behalf. Every British passport is issued in her name. She also has the power to withdraw them, though, so whenever you’re travelling, don’t do anything the Queen wouldn’t do!
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Command the Armed Forces
Yes, the nonagenarian monarch is Commander-in-Chief of the United Kingdom’s entire military force! All British soldiers must swear an oath to her before officially joining the armed forces. With the power to command the army, though, comes the power to delegate that duty as well. The Queen can assign the position of Commander-in-Chief to another government official, most commonly the Prime Minister or the Secretary of State for Defence.
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Not only can the Queen declare war on other countries, she’s the only one in the United Kingdom with the power to do so. She doesn’t have absolute power by any means, though. This ability only applies in cases of “all-out warfare,” and Parliament, the Prime Minister, and the rest of the government would have to permit it. Queen Elizabeth II has never declared war throughout her entire reign; the last monarch to do so was King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, who declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939.
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The Queen has the power to dissolve Parliament
If she so chooses, the Queen could fire everyone in the House of Commons and hold a new election of entirely new members. She’s never used this power, but even if she did, it wouldn’t disrupt government activities as much as you might think. The capital-G Government itself, including the Prime Minister and Cabinet, would be unaffected. The last time a monarch dissolved Parliament was in 1830, and a decision to do so today would most likely be hugely unpopular with the citizenry.
Present citizens with “titles of honour”
The Queen can personally bestow honours on individuals who have proven themselves to be exemplary citizens of the United Kingdom. They may earn such distinctions through everything from charity work to artistic or scientific contributions. There is a whole host of potential honours, but the titles you’re probably most familiar with are “Sir” (Knight) and “Dame,” thanks to stars like Patrick Stewart, Elton John and Maggie Smith. To be fair, those titles don’t exactly confer much in the way of power, but they sure make your name sound a lot cooler!
Now that you know what Queen Elizabeth II actually has the power to do, check out these little-known facts about the British royal family.