Has the departure of two senior royals sparked a constitutional crisis?

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After the Queen’s actions to retire Prince Andrew last week, questions have been raised about his remaining constitutional duty.

As Counsellor of State he may still be called upon to pick up some of the Queen’s duties if she were temporarily out of action due to illness or if she was travelling.

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Under the Regency Act 1937, the group that the monarch can empower are the next four in line to the throne who are over the age of 21.

Those royals are Princes Charles, William, Andrew and Harry (after skipping over the Cambridge and Sussex children due to their young age).

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Has the departure of two senior royals sparked a constitutional crisis?
© Getty As Counsellor of State, Prince Andrew may still be called upon to pick up some of the Queen’s duties if she were temporarily out of action.

The late Prince Philip, as the sovereign’s spouse, would also have been included if he were still alive.

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To activate the counsellors, the Queen issues a directive known as Letters Patent to formally grant authority to two or more counsellors so they can fulfill many of her daily duties that keep the state ticking over.

For example, attending Privy Council meetings, signing routine documents and receiving new ambassadors to the UK. They aren’t allowed to do the big stuff such as appointing a Prime Minister or deal with Commonwealth matters — that would have to wait until she was back.

Reports emerged in the UK this week suggesting palace officials were considering removing Prince Andrew and Prince Harry from their crucial roles as they are no longer actively working for “the firm.” Harry isn’t even resident in the UK.

Has the departure of two senior royals sparked a constitutional crisis?
© Getty Palace officials are reportedly considering removing Prince Andrew and Prince Harry from their crucial roles.

Gallery: Princess Anne: the hardest working royal (StarsInsider)

Has the departure of two senior royals sparked a constitutional crisis?

Buckingham Palace has not commented on the speculation, but constitutional experts say it makes sense because the Regency Act was drawn up with counsellors in mind that are senior royals already working closely with the sovereign and who understand the everyday duties of the monarch.

“You’re meant to have a little bit of flexibility as to who can act as Counsellors of State because if the Queen is taken unwell and she’s unable to act, then you have people who can just step in and ensure that all the documents that the Queen would normally just approve in her red boxes just get dealt with in the normal way and the process of government just continues rolling on as smoothly as it normally does,” Craig Prescott, a lecturer in law at Bangor University in Wales, tells CNN.

He says the current situation “limits what Charles and William could do” but that a solution seems “quite straightforward.”

Rather than removing Andrew and Harry from the group — which would require an Act of Parliament — Prescott says other royals should be added to the group through a new Regency Act — as was done for the Queen Mother when she was made an additional Counsellor in 1953.

Has the departure of two senior royals sparked a constitutional crisis?
© Getty Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex.

“You allow for other members of the royal family to become Counsellors of State — Princess Anne and Prince Edward, for example. If they don’t do that, then you could end up with a real headache,” Prescott says.

He says the palace is likely already exploring how to resolve the present issue to avoid any possible obstacles impeding day-to-day operations of the government, according to his research.

“I’ve seen documents in the National Archives, from the 1970s, where they’ve coordinated diaries of different members of the royal family to ensure that there were sufficient numbers of Counsellors of State in the country to act if required,” he says, highlighting an example of the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret who was once asked to return from the island of Mustique earlier than intended to make sure a gap in schedules was covered.

He adds: “It is something that they take seriously and so that would lead me to think that they’re taking this problem seriously and thinking about how to solve it.”

What is clear is that there isn’t enough slack in the system as it’s currently set up. What if Charles or William aren’t available when they are needed? The only two options would be to pull Andrew out of retirement or Harry back from America. How would the government react to that? And what if they refused?

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