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King Charles III and his ministers 

King Charles III is already showing that he wants to put his own stamp on the part he plays in UK government.

King Charles III welcomes Rishi Sunak during an audience at Buckingham Palace.
King Charles III welcoming prime minister Rishi Sunak during an audience at Buckingham Palace.

After 70 years on the throne, the part Queen Elizabeth played in UK government seemed to reflect hard and fast rules about the monarch’s constitutional position in relation to the executive. But King Charles III is already showing that he wants to put his own stamp on this important aspect of his new role, says Hannah White. 

The monarchy will change following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Much has already been written about the ways in which she developed and adapted the role of the monarchy during the course of her long reign – from leading the development of the Commonwealth to downsizing the cost of the Royal Family to the British tax-payer. It is to be expected that – over time – King Charles III will continue his mother’s approach by adapting the institution he now leads to reflect the society and context in which it operates. 

We are already seeing signs that King Charles wants to update his new role. His decision to televise the Accession Council and the start of his first audience with the new PM Liz Truss could be seen as a refreshing demystification of monarchy and the constitutional niceties that surround it (although the Royal Family knows that letting in the cameras has not always worked to its advantage). Having planned for his accession for so many decades, these are unlikely to be the last innovations King Charles introduces during his reign.  

King Charles faces a delicate balancing act in how he works with ministers  

One area where the new King is more likely to want to stick to his mother’s approach is in managing his relationship with government. His new responsibilities range from the formal and ceremonial (such as opening parliament), to the routine (such as appointing ministers or approving legislation) to the more informal and personal (such as weekly meetings with the prime minister or soft diplomacy via state visits). 

This is where his mother’s style has been so lauded. Her ability to take a keen interest in all that her government did while also being perceived as firmly apolitical was a huge personal and constitutional feat. Much of the UK constitution now relies on the ideal she established of a disinterested but potentially empowered monarch who would not stray into the day-to-day controversies of politics but might act as a constitutional backstop should the politics fail. King Charles has already indicated that he understands this: in his first broadcast to the nation following his mother’s death he talked about needing to leave behind the issues that he had previously championed.  

But as he performs this delicate balancing act, King Charles will also develop his own style of interaction with ministers. The monarch, in the words of the Cabinet Manual, is "entitled to be informed and consulted, and to advise, encourage and warn ministers". Theresa May described her weekly audiences with the prime minister as, "a conversation with someone who was immensely knowledgeable and understanding of the issues". We know, courtesy of David Cameron, that King Charles already sought an apprenticeship on the weekly audience during his mother’s reign, but he will now need to navigate these all important but highly private meetings for himself.  

Dragging the King into politics should be a red line for ministers 

Politicians too must understand the delicacy of the monarch’s balancing act. While pomp and ceremony may be what the public mostly see of their sovereign, it is the monarch’s relationship with the executive that is most fundamental to our constitution and which has, in recent years, seemed the most fragile. The old mantra ‘don’t drag the Queen into politics’ has had to be repeated in recent years with unwelcome frequency.  

For years, constitutional experts have debated whether the monarch has any remaining agency distinct from acting as they are advised by their ministers. The prorogation crisis of 2019 raised this question, but the imperative to find an answer was then mitigated by the Supreme Court ruling that it was the prime minister’s advice to the monarch, not the monarch’s decision, that was at fault. The issue has not gone away though. Rows over whether the sovereign should consent to controversial legislation, adjudicate on who can command confidence in parliament or take a view when a prime minister who has lost the support of their party should resign, have all highlighted the continuing risk that the monarch could be dragged into politics.   

The relationship between the monarchy and the government is constitutionally crucial and its stewardship is an essential responsibility of both institutions. But stewardship does not mean stasis, and the end of Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign means questions about how her heir will work with ministers – and how ministers will manage their relationship with the monarch – will rightly be asked. Building an effective working relationship – and confidence in this critical part of the constitution – is now an active task for the new King and his new ministers. 

Public figures
King Charles III
Institute for Government

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