The Queen and Boris Johnson: Constitutional problems, parties and apologies

·6-min read

Boris Johnson caused a certain amount of trouble for the nation’s longest reigning sovereign.

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 the prime minister’s short tenure.

He may have been the 14th prime minister of her reign, but the Queen is unlikely to forget the ups and downs of his time in charge.

Conservative leadership bid
The Queen welcomes newly elected leader of the Conservative party Boris Johnson during an audience in Buckingham Palace, where she invited him to become Prime Minister and form a new government (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Johnson, who came to power in 2019, 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.

Coronavirus – Fri Jan 14, 2022
The Queen alone at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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”.

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.

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.

Protesters outside the Supreme Court in London (Jonathan Brady/PA)

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.

Queen Elizabeth II meeting PM
The Queen greets Boris Johnson in June 2021 in their first in-person weekly audience since the start of the coronavirus pandemic (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

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 and discourteous to the monarch.

Queen’s speech 2019
The Queen and the Prince of Wales sit in the House of Lords ahead of the State Opening of Parliament in December 2019 (Leon Neal/PA)

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.

Coronavirus – Tue Jan 18, 2022
Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the visit to Finchley Memorial Hospital where he apologised publicly to the Queen (Ian Vogler/PA)

Sue Gray’s report into the partygate scandal revealed people carried on drinking at No 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.