Royal family to downplay appearances during election campaign

Royal family to downplay appearances during election campaign
Royal family to downplay appearances during election campaign

Shortly after British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak called a snap parliamentary election for July 4, Buckingham Palace announced that all members of the royal family were canceling most of their public engagements until after the vote to avoid to do anything that might distract from the campaign.

The announcement signals how Charles will seek to play his role as a unifying head of state during the campaign, without violating a constitutional ban on political interference.

Although the king’s role in government is largely ceremonial, it is linked to traditions that embody the way in which royal powers have been gradually transferred to Parliament over the past 800 years.

Here’s a look at the monarch’s role in the run-up to the election, including some do’s and don’ts:

Did Charles play a role in calling the election?

The decision to call an election was entirely up to Mr Sunak. But before he could do so, the king had to authorize the early dissolution of Parliament.

Technically, the king still has the power to refuse a request for dissolution if he believes an election would be detrimental to the nation. But the last time this happened was in 1835.

Ignoring this precedent “would expose the monarch to allegations of political interference of an undemocratic nature, even if the intention of the refusal was to preserve the proper functioning of democracy,” according to the Institute for Government, an independent think tank.

What awaits the king next?

The current session of Parliament will be “prorogued” or ended on Friday based on an order that Charles approved at a meeting of the Privy Council on Thursday at Buckingham Palace.

The King will not attend the official end of the session, a ceremony in which the Speaker of the House of Commons and other members of Parliament will travel as a group to the House of Lords to hear a speech written by the government.

What about public appearances?

Law and tradition prohibit the royal family from interfering in politics at any time, but it is even more important to ensure strict adherence to these rules during an election.

This means that members of the royal family cannot campaign for candidates, support policies or even make their political preferences known.

Buckingham Palace made this clear shortly after Mr Sunak’s announcement, announcing that members of the royal family would postpone any engagements which “could appear to divert attention or distract from the election campaign”.

The king therefore canceled his visits on Friday to a Bentley car factory and to a community center helping people in financial difficulty.

What will the king do?

Well, some things are beyond reproach.

The King and Queen still plan to attend ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6.

Other commitments will be considered on a case-by-case basis, the palace said.

Why is this so important?

One of the main roles of the modern monarchy is to provide a unifying figurehead who is seen as above politics and who can provide a sense of stability in difficult times.

This was the first general election of Charles’s reign. His mother, Queen Elizabeth II, oversaw 21 during her 70 years on the throne.

George Gross, a royal expert at King’s College London, pointed out that elections are by definition turbulent times in which people look to the monarchy for continuity.

“There is (…) a power vacuum in political terms. The power is now returned to the British people, and they will review the offer over the next six weeks,” Mr Gross said.

“So this means that the head of state has a new role. Or rather, the key role of stability and continuity is highlighted. From now on, (the royal family) cannot be political in any way.”

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