Naked Politics Blogger
A tabloid breaks a huge story—the Queen supports Brexit —all on the back of someone’s retelling of a lunch-time argument with a former Deputy Prime Minister five years ago. A tenuous jump? Perhaps. But not quite as strained as their assertion that Clegg’s stating he has “absolutely no recollection” counts as being “vague”.
Nonetheless, official policy states that “as Head of State, The Queen must remain politically neutral, since her Government will be formed from whichever party can command a majority in the House of Commons.” This does not make the Sun story untrue. Many were surprised when The Queen urged people to ‘think very carefully’ before voting in the Scottish independence referendum back in 2014. What’s more, the EU Referendum is one of the biggest political decisions in a generation. With potentially far more significant outcomes than any regular vote, it is one of those occasions where explicitly neutral parties will always do best if they actually stay quiet. Of course the Queen’s alleged remarks came at a time when the referendum was a mere possibility on the horizon, these were the pre-UKIP days, where someone as ineffectual as Clegg could be cast as an enemy of the public.
All that said, the Queen is a human. She will have opinions, the nature of her role means that she is probably exceptionally informed. Though in the case of ‘the European question’, it is unclear whether anyone can in fact be informed. The extent of the ‘outburst’ is questionable, but its contents, that she ‘did not understand’ the EU are not particularly surprising.
As suggested by others, the Royal Brexit story is part of the ever-increasing noise that clouds a potentially interesting debate. Scare-tactics and inter-party strife dominate the discourse.
Throwing the Queen into the mix on the side of those who want out of the European Project is an obvious move. There are clear ideological connections between sovereignty, nationhood and royalty, and despite inconsistent chatter about economic benefits, the key argument is far simpler. How important is it that we have control over our own laws? Despite the pan-European heritage of the Monarchy, it is cast as being a distinctly British thing. The Sun story will only confirm the suspicions of many. Even if the Sun is proven to be guilty of wrongdoing by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, the damage will probably already have been done. In a political debate dominated by psychological warfare, the image of the Queen next to the word Brexit will long linger.
The most harm may actually come to whoever leaked the story to the Sun. Leading Vote Leave campaigner and Secretary of State for Justice Minister, Michael Gove, who, as a member of the cabinet at the time, would have been at the infamous lunch has been accused. All he could say was “I don’t know how the Sun got all its information and I don’t think it’s really worth my adding anything to what’s already been said. [emphasis added]”.
Gove is a former employee of Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Sun, and whilst the quote above is not an admittance of guilt, it hints that several people including himself were involved. If he was the source—though a smart move in terms of the EU referendum—it may end up costing Gove his ministerial appointment, as well as much of the public’s sympathy. Even those who would support him on the Europe question will not like how he may have betrayed the Queen’s confidentiality and aura of impartiality.
The Queen and the rest of the Royal Family will now be extra cautious and try to steer well clear of any future scandals like this. But the fact that whoever broke the story to The Sun had been keeping it quiet for six years, suggests that this was a carefully planned piece of PR for the VoteLeave campaign. As we edge closer the date of the referendum, there may well be more to come.