Political Power of the British Monarchy

The British monarch officially opens parliament each year.
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As a constitutional monarchy, the British monarchy wields no formal political power, but nonetheless plays a vital role. The British parliament in Westminster has three elements: the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the monarch. This parliament, alongside the regional parliaments and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, has the power to create laws. British monarchs are expected to be politically neutral and work alongside the government holding power at any given time. However, the monarch retains important ceremonial and symbolic roles within the political sphere.

1 Appointing the Prime Minister

After a general election to elect members of Parliament (MPs) to Westminster, the monarch, as head of state, formally invites the leader of the winning political party to take on the role of prime minister and form a government. Although the monarch has no formal power over the prime minister, in reality the two have a close working relationship, as they meet on a weekly basis, allowing the prime minister to brief the monarch and the monarch to offer views on current political affairs. The monarch retains the right "to be consulted, to encourage and to warn" and this largely takes place through these weekly meetings.

2 Opening and Dissolving Parliament

The United Kingdom's government is known as “his majesty's government” or "her majesty's government," recognizing the monarch’s role as head of state. The monarch marks the beginning of the parliamentary year at the State Opening of Parliament, a grand ceremonial occasion dating back to the 16th century. The monarch also brings a formal end to each Westminster parliament prior to a general election. A Parliament's term lasts five years, unless MPs vote to hold the general election sooner. The monarch dissolves parliament before the election by issuing a legal document known as a proclamation.

3 King's or Queen's Speech

The State Opening of Parliament brings all three elements of the parliament together, and the monarch's speech is a key part of the day. Written for the monarch by the current government, it sets out the government's plans for the incoming parliamentary year, including policy priorities and potential legislation. The monarch makes the speech in full regalia from a special throne in the House of Lords, following a horse-drawn procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster.

4 Royal Assent

Like the other two elements of the British parliament, the monarch must approve legislation before it can become law. This is done by giving royal assent. The last time a British monarch refused to give royal assent was in 1707. Today royal assent is a formality, given after the proposed legislation has been debated and approved in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. No monarch has given royal assent in person since 1854, but the titles of legislation that have received royal assent are announced in Parliament on the monarch's behalf.

Rita Kennedy is a writer and researcher based in the United Kingdom. She began writing in 2002 and her work has appeared in several academic journals including "Memory Studies," the "Journal of Historical Geography" and the "Local Historian." She holds a Ph.D. in history and an honours degree in geography from the University of Ulster.