‘No popularity contests’ Harry and Andrew unlikely to be stripped of major role

Queen: Princess Beatrice could take over as 'Counsellor of State'

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The Dukes of Sussex and York are among the four current royals named as Counsellors of State (CoS). But, amid concerns for the Queen’s health and following Prince Andrew’s decision to step back from public duties and Prince Harry’s relocation abroad, some royal watchers and commentators have called for Parliament to remove the two Dukes from this position.

Royal historian Marlene Koenig, however, believes it unlikely Parliament will act to take away this role from Andrew and Harry.

Referring to the Regency Act 1937, which created the office of CoS, she told “I sincerely doubt Parliament will change the Regency Act.

“Far too many people think you have to be a working royal to be a CoS. This is incorrect.

“It is the first four in line to the throne who are at least 21 years old (with the exception of the heir who becomes a CoS at 18) and the spouse of the sovereign [who are named for this role]. 

“Being a Counsellor of State is not based on popularity contests or how the media treats different members of the Royal Family.

“Harry and Andrew are both in line to the throne. That has not changed.

“Their position as Counsellors of State has not changed because neither carry out engagements.”

Ms Koenig also suggested Harry and Andrew are very unlikely to ever be asked to step in as CoS. 

She said: “That said, they do not have to be asked. Charles and William can fulfil the duties if called upon.”

The royal historian added: “If one is abroad, one can assume that person will catch the first plane back to England.”

Counsellors of State are appointed by Letters Patent to act in Her Majesty’s name on a temporary basis and on specific issues – including attending Privy Council meetings and signing routine documents – in the event the Queen can’t undertake her official duties due to illnesses or trip abroad.

There are normally five Counsellors automatically appointed by law within the Royal Family, no matter whether they are working royals or not, and they are the sovereign’s spouse and the next four people in the line of succession who are over the age of 21. 

Following the death of Prince Philip in April, the Queen can still count among her CoS Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew.

Buckingham Palace doesn’t have a say on who the Counsellors are, as it is a matter regulated by law falling into the hands of Parliament.

In accordance with the line of succession to the throne, the next royals to be appointed as Counsellors should there be the need would be Princess Beatrice, currently 10th-in-line, and her sister Princess Eugenie, 12th-in-line.

Ms Koenig noted: “If a regency is needed, with Charles becoming the Prince Regent, Beatrice would move into that fourth position [among the Counsellors].” 

The royal historian also conceded that, while Prince Harry currently lives abroad, he would easily travel back to the UK should the need for him to step in as Counsellor arose.

She said: “Let’s be realistic here. Harry may be living in the US, but he is still considered domiciled in the UK.

“If he is named in the Letters Patent (unlikely) he can fly back to England.”

Prince Harry relocated to California in late March 2020, shortly before officially stepping down as senior royal. 

However, he reportedly renewed the lease of Frogmore Cottage, set to expire at the end of March, where he lived with his wife Meghan and son Archie in 2019.

This move would qualify him as being domiciled in Britain and allow him to serve as CoS if needed. 

The expert noted George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood and nephew of King George VI, spent part of the years in which he was appointed Counsellor of State as a prisoner of war in Colditz – signalling the absence from the UK doesn’t necessarily imply a royal should be taken away this position.

She also highlighted how, by law, two or more Counsellors should be appointed to temporarily replace the sovereign but there have been instances during which only one title holder was named.

Citing the London Gazette, Ms Koenig said: “In 1969, when the Queen went to Canada, Charles was named as Counsellor of State. Just him.”     

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