Johnson and the Queen: A constitutional row, loose words and a public apology
Boris Johnson has been the 14th prime minister of the Queen’s reign, and it has been an eventful time for the monarch with Mr Johnson at the helm.
Elizabeth II, as head of state, and Mr Johnson, as leader of the government, have witnessed turbulent times together of an unprecedented nature, with both Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic occurring during his short tenure.
But Mr Johnson also caused a certain amount of trouble for the nation’s longest reigning sovereign.
He succeeded in drawing the Queen into a major constitutional row over the illegal proroguing of Parliament.
He twice broke with convention and talked about their private audiences, and publicly apologised to the Queen and the country over events in Downing Street on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
Two parties were held in No 10 at a time of national mourning and with England under restrictions banning indoor mixing of households.
The following day, the Queen sat alone – socially distanced from her family – as she mourned her husband.
Mr Johnson was only a few hours into his post after succeeding Theresa May in July 2019 when he revealed what was said in his audience with the Queen as he accepted her invitation to form the next government and become prime minister.
A correspondent for Euronews NBC said the outspoken politician claimed the monarch quipped “I don’t know why anyone would want the job”.
Mr Johnson, who disclosed the remarks during a tour in 10 Downing Street, was told off by staff who warned him not to repeat such things so loudly.
Again in November 2019, he talked about their private audiences, describing their meetings as a “very tough interview”.
We will have a General Election on December 12th. It's now up to you, the great British public, to make your voice heard.
Do you want to #GetBrexitDone or have two more referendums next year with Corbyn? pic.twitter.com/orPEc3jwE1
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) November 6, 2019
He made the revelations in an election campaign video filmed in a car on his way to meet the head of state on the day Parliament was dissolved, signalling the start of the general election.
Mr Johnson said: “I’m just off to see Her Majesty the Queen, which is always a very tough interview because she always asks the best questions and the question today is: Why are we having this election?”
The monarch is politically neutral and acts on the advice of her government in political matters.
But with 70 years’ experience on the throne, the Queen’s knowledge and experience of matters of state is unparalleled.
Mr Johnson revealed during a Parliamentary tribute to the Queen in her Jubilee year that his regular meetings with the monarch were always “immensely comforting, because she has seen the sweep of it”.
The Queen had briefings from Mr Johnson most Wednesdays, usually face to face, and then when the coronavirus outbreak worsened, their audiences were held by telephone.
The Queen held her weekly Audience with the Prime Minister today by telephone. Her Majesty - pictured this evening at Windsor Castle - has held a weekly Audience with her Prime Minister throughout her reign. pic.twitter.com/9rYoLTfkO4
— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) March 25, 2020
But former chief aide in No 10 Dominic Cummings claimed Mr Johnson wanted to visit the Queen early in the pandemic despite cases of Covid-19 having hit Downing Street.
Downing Street has flatly denied this.
Mr Johnson ultimately took a 15-month break from his face-to-face meetings after seeing the Queen on March 11 2020.
But Mr Cummings alleged Mr Johnson had wanted to visit her a week later, on March 18 when people in his office were isolating, but had to be convinced of the seriousness of potentially giving the Queen coronavirus.
This was five days before Mr Johnson announced the first lockdown on March 23 and he went on to test positive himself for Covid-19 later that month.
Mr Johnson sparked a major constitutional row during the Queen’s summer holidays in August 2019 amid Westminster’s bitter Brexit battles after asking her to suspend Parliament for more than a month.
The sovereign was duty bound to hold a Privy Council meeting at Balmoral, her private Scottish estate, where, acting on the advice of the prime minister, she approved an order to temporarily close – or prorogue – Parliament for five weeks.
Opposition leaders wrote to the Queen in protest and Commons speaker John Bercow said the move was a “constitutional outrage” designed to stop Parliament debating Brexit.
In the end, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating Parliament.
Mr Johnson apologised to the monarch.
In September 2019, he made the traditional prime ministerial trip to stay at the Queen’s Balmoral estate.
He was joined by his then girlfriend and now wife, Carrie Symonds, who was then expecting their first child together.
Ms Symonds was thought to be the first unmarried partner of a sitting prime minister to stay at the Scottish castle.
In December 2019, the Queen, who was then 93, carried out a state opening of Parliament – just nine weeks after the previous one.
The first in October was branded a sham ahead of the expected election.
Sir Ed Davey, then deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, accused Mr Johnson of being discourteous to the monarch.
“First of all we saw how he misled her according to the Supreme Court over the first attempt of proroguing Parliament. Now he’s bringing her into electoral politics,” he said.
The row over Downing Street parties during lockdown led to Mr Johnson publicly apologising to the Queen in January 2022.
Mr Johnson, who was at Chequers at the time of the parties on April 16 2021 the night before Philip’s funeral, appeared emotional during his on-camera apology, saying he deeply and bitterly regretted that the events had taken place.
Two boozy gatherings were held to mark the departures of James Slack as Mr Johnson’s director of communications and another member of staff.
Sue Gray’s report into the partygate scandal revealed people carried on drinking at Number 10 the night before Philip’s funeral until the early hours, with the last person not leaving until 4.20am.
A child’s swing in the garden was damaged by people leaning on it.
The country was in a period of mourning after the death of the duke, and restrictions meant the Queen had to sit socially distanced from her loved ones at Philip’s pared back funeral as she mourned her husband of 73 years.