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the palace’s plan to sideline Harry and Andrew, writes ROBERT HARDMAN


Amid all the frenetic calculations and stealthy haggling this week for the Tory leadership, few people were paying much attention to the House of Lords Order Paper on a quiet Monday afternoon.

Yet in a brief exchange between the Leader of the Lords and a Labor backbench MP, we caught a glimpse of what could be the first constitutional reform of King Charles III’s reign.

Ministers and senior palace officials are now finalizing their plans to avoid any future prospect of the Dukes of Sussex or York becoming involved in state affairs in the king’s absence.

Under proposals due to go to parliament, possibly within weeks, the king will be able to call on a wider range of royal surrogates – including the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex – to carry out his constitutional duties as routine when out of the country. .

The Mail has learned that these proposals were already under consideration a few months ago, with the late Queen’s approval. Monday’s parliamentary response from the leader of the Lords, Lord True, suggests reform could be imminent.

Ministers and senior palace officials are now finalizing their plans to avoid any future prospect of the Dukes of Sussex or York becoming involved in state affairs in the king’s absence.

Under proposals due to go to parliament, possibly within weeks, the king will be able to call on a wider range of royal surrogates – including the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex, pictured – to perform his routine constitutional duties when absent.  the country

Under proposals due to go to parliament, possibly within weeks, the king will be able to call on a wider range of royal surrogates – including the Princess Royal and the Earl of Wessex, pictured – to perform his routine constitutional duties when absent. the country

Pictured: Princess Anne, who is expected to step in among other senior royals to carry out routine tasks when King Charles is out of the country

Pictured: Princess Anne, who is expected to step in among other senior royals to carry out routine tasks when King Charles is out of the country

Currently, when the monarch is absent for any reason, affairs of state – such as approvals of most appointments and legislation – can be conducted by two councilors of state.

Under the terms of the Regency Acts of 1937 and 1953, these can be named among the four oldest adults in the line of succession, plus the wife of a monarch. Today that means the Queen Consort, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of York and Princess Beatrice.

Under current proposals, the king could expand this list at his discretion, with the possibility of including his other two siblings, Anne and Edward.

The reform is not without a certain sense of urgency, given that the king and queen consort are expected to travel abroad soon, the first time the monarch has been out of the country in seven years.

The late Queen was last seen attending the 2015 Commonwealth Summit in Malta. The Dukes of Sussex and York were among those she had previously appointed as Councilors of State.

Under current proposals, the king could expand this list at his discretion, with the possibility of including his other two siblings, Anne and Edward.

Under current proposals, the king could expand this list at his discretion, with the possibility of including his other two siblings, Anne and Edward.

Since then, however, Prince Harry has retired from royal duties and moved abroad, while Andrew has been removed from public life following his association with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

Palace officials are aware that at a time of great national, international and economic turmoil, it would be very embarrassing if the immediate smooth running of government suddenly depended on either of the two wandering dukes.

In theory, affairs of state could still be conducted by the Prince of Wales and Princess Beatrice, although she is a private citizen who may not be available at the constitutional click of a finger. She also does not bear the imprimatur of an active member of the royal family.

Rather than changing the legislation to exclude specific individuals, the thinking goes, it makes far more sense to simply expand the options available to the king.

Palace officials are aware that at a time of great national, international and economic turmoil, it would be very embarrassing if the immediate smooth running of government suddenly depended on either of the two wandering dukes.

Palace officials are aware that at a time of great national, international and economic turmoil, it would be very embarrassing if the immediate smooth running of government suddenly depended on either of the two wandering dukes.

When a state of emergency was declared in February 1974, Princess Margaret, pictured, was one of the State Councilors to approve an emergency order

When a state of emergency was declared in February 1974, Princess Margaret, pictured, was one of the State Councilors to approve an emergency order

Hence the likely inclusion of other working family members. This way no one needs to be offended and business can continue as normal. In royal and parliamentary circles, the example of the miners’ strike in 1974 is often cited. At the time, the Queen was on an extensive tour of Australia and the Pacific.

On February 7, a state of emergency was declared, with Ted Heath’s government brought to its knees by industrial action, giving authorities special powers to take over the supply and distribution of fuel, food and “essentials of life”. The next day, Parliament is dissolved.

In both cases, these decrees had to be approved by two Councilors of State. On this occasion, it was Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother.

Let’s hope Britain isn’t reduced to this kind of chaos again, but that would be hardly reassuring if it required the Duke of York’s signature to keep the lights on.

Earlier this week, the subject surfaced in the House of Lords following a question from hereditary Labor peer Viscount Stansgate. “Is the government happy to continue with a situation where the advice of state and regency powers can be exercised by the Duke of York or the Duke of Sussex, one of whom has left public life and the another has left the country?” He asked.

Pictured: Ted Heath, whose government was brought to its knees by the 1974 miners' strike

Pictured: Ted Heath, whose government was brought to its knees by the 1974 miners’ strike

Lord Stansgate, the son of the late Labor great Tony Benn, continued: ‘Isn’t it time for the Government to approach the King to see if any sensible amendment can be made to this Act?

It is common practice for ministers to answer such questions with the repeated response that royal family business is off limits. Instead, Lord True, who had been warned of this issue appearing on the soap at least a fortnight earlier, quoted the words of George VI in 1937.

Shortly after his accession, Lord True said, the new king had recognized the need “to make arrangements such as the will.” . . ensure the exercise of royal authority”.

Then the noble Lord went further: “In this spirit, the government will always consider the arrangements necessary to ensure the resilience of our constitutional arrangements, and in the past we have seen that the point of accession has proved a useful opportunity to review the arrangements in place.’

In other words, watch this space.

Lord Stansgate, the son of late Labor great Tony Benn, pictured, continued:

Lord Stansgate, the son of the late Labor great Tony Benn, pictured, continued: ‘Isn’t it time for the Government to approach the King to see if any sensible amendment can be made to this Act?

Neither the Palace nor Lord True’s office made any further comments yesterday. Yet it has not gone unnoticed by keen-eyed constitutional commentators such as Dr Craig Prescott of the UK Constitutional Law Association. He tweeted: ‘I think this was the first time the issue of Princes Harry and Andrew as State Councilors has come up in Parliament.

I’ve been told senior Palace officials are already exploring ways to “tidy up” this potential stumbling block this summer.

“The Queen may see the need for some reforms, while not wishing to exclude the Dukes of Sussex or York,” a source said. “The king is just following that.”

At the Palace, these matters reside jointly with the late Queen’s Private Secretary, Sir Edward Young, and the King’s Principal Private Secretary, Sir Clive Alderton. For now, they are working in tandem at Buckingham Palace to ensure the smoothest possible handover. This is simply an example of unfinished work.

Once the King’s first overseas tours are announced – and, as the new head of the Commonwealth, he will be many – then more focus on regency laws will be inevitable.

The palace and government will then want to put a plan in place before Lord Stansgate’s question becomes a chorus.

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