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The Queen's wisdom

The Queens wisdom

The setting for the Queen's comments was as homespun as could be imagined. At the centenary celebrations of the Women's Institute, what she said was of huge significance, both for British politics and her constitutional role as monarch. Speaking to the branch of the WI near her country estate of Sandringham, the Queen said: "Every generation faces fresh challenges and opportunities. As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground, and never losing sight of the bigger picture." While the Queen did not mention the word Brexit, she did not need to. Couched in very careful language, these comments were as far as her strictly politically neutral role as head of state allows her to go. The way the remarks were highlighted by Buckingham Palace made it clear that they were meant to be interpreted as an intervention on the biggest challenge the UK was facing right now. The question is, do the Queen's words favour a particular side of the debate? Remain or leave, soft Brexit or no deal? That is not clear. But the hugely popular 92-year-old monarch and her words have the power to shift opinion, in both Parliament and the wider electorate. One person the intervention certainly helps is Theresa May, who has been struggling to persuade lawmakers to back her deal, with some compromises, when the Parliament votes on the issue again. As such, the Queen's call for people to seek "common ground" and respect "different points of view" will be warmly welcomed in Downing Street. This raises the next question: Did May ask the Queen to intervene? The Queen holds a private weekly audience with the Prime Minister, as she has with 12 earlier PMs, at which the PM updates the monarch on the issues of the day. In turn, the Queen, in the confidentiality of the room, expresses her opinions on political matters. So did May ask whether the Queen might make a subtle intervention on the subject? Downing Street did not deny such a conversation took place. The Queen's position as head of state demands that she remains politically neutral in public, but during her reign of more than 60 years, she has shaped it to become more than simply a figurehead. The UK is, after all, the nation she serves and, at times of constitutional crisis, she would not be expected to stand by and watch her country go off the rails. The Queen has, in the subtlest of ways, given it a gentle yet powerful nudge to get it back on track.

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