The Monarch's Role in the Government of the UK

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  • 0:01 A Constitutional Monarch
  • 0:53 Head of State and Head…
  • 1:45 The Monarch's Duties
  • 4:02 Social Engagements
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will explore the role of the British monarch in the daily business of the government of the United Kingdom. We will also look closely at the monarch's overall position in the country.

A Constitutional Monarch

The London fog swirls around Buckingham Palace as the Queen prepares for her day. After a light breakfast of tea and toast, she is ready to begin her important daily duties. What's that? You didn't know that Britain's monarch had any important daily duties? You think that the king or queen is just a figurehead and nothing else? Well, let's follow the Queen as she goes through her daily routine and see exactly what kind of role the British monarch actually plays in her country's government.

Before we begin, however, let's discuss the monarch's overall position in the United Kingdom. The Queen is a constitutional monarch. She rules according to a constitution - an established set of rules - and her power is limited. She must work in conjunction with Parliament, the country's legislative body. Usually, she cannot act on her own.

Head of State and Head of Nation

The British monarch is the country's official Head of State, or leader of the government. The Queen plays a political role in the United Kingdom and does have official duties, as we shall soon see. She acts by the Royal Prerogative, which refers to a set of formal privileges the monarch holds under the national constitution. Although her personal political power is very limited because she must always work in close conjunction with her ministers, the monarch provides stability and continuity to the country even in the midst of changing political parties and ever-present controversies.

The British monarch also holds the title Head of Nation. As such, the Queen is a national icon who represents her country and its people at home and abroad. Indeed, the monarch is the United Kingdom's public face and a living symbol of the nation's power and sovereignty.

The Monarch's Duties

It looks like the Queen is ready to begin her daily duties, so let's hurry along and keep up with her. First up is her regularly scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister. The Queen actually appointed him to his office after the last election. In fact, the monarch appoints each new Prime Minister by requesting the leader of the majority party in the House of Commons to form the new, post-election government.

Today, the Prime Minister has a whole list of items to discuss with the Queen. He briefs her on the Parliament's latest debates and the bills currently working their way through the House of Commons. The Queen must actually give her royal assent to all the bills Parliament passes before they can become laws. She does so automatically these days, but if she really wanted to, she could veto a bill and prevent it from becoming law, although that hasn't happened since 1708.

The Prime Minister also compliments the Queen on her latest speech before Parliament, which she gave at its opening session a few weeks before. The monarch traditionally opens each session of Parliament with an address laying out the government's agenda and objectives. Even though the speech is typically prepared for her, the Queen still makes it her own and takes pride in speaking to parliamentarians. She is pleased with Prime Minister's admiration.

Next, the Prime Minister sets a list of appointments before the Queen. The monarch has the power to appoint government ministers, members of Parliament's House of Lords, senior judges, archbishops and bishops for the Church of England, and some civil service positions. The Queen trusts the Prime Minister's judgment and signs the necessary appointments. She also readily agrees to his suggestion that several British citizens receive honors from the Queen in recognition for their service to their country.

Finally, the Prime Minister brings the Queen up to date on the world scene, especially the conflicts currently raging in various regions. The monarch is officially the Commander-in-Chief of the country's armed forces and has the power to commission and decommission officers as well as organize and direct military operations. Of course, the Queen leaves military decisions to the experts, namely Parliament and military leaders, but she still appreciates knowing exactly what is going on at all times.

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