The Queen and Brexit: Secret evacuation plans and prorogation row

Laura Elston, PA Court Reporter
·5-min read

Although the Queen remains politically neutral on all matters, she has featured in the story of Brexit.

Secret plans to evacuate the monarch and other senior royals from London were reportedly previously drawn up in case a no-deal Brexit triggered rioting on the streets.

In February 2019, the Sunday Times said Whitehall was formulating emergency proposals repurposed from those originally drawn up during the Cold War in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union.

That was before the pandemic of 2020 took hold and the Queen decamped from Buckingham Palace to the safety of Windsor in lockdown.

The Queen and Philip
The Queen and Philip at Windsor Castle in June (Steve Parsons/PA)

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are still in the historic royal fortress in Berkshire, being cared for by a reduced household of staff in what has been dubbed HMS Bubble.

They are having a quiet Christmas together without the rest of the royals.

It will be the first time the Queen, 94, and 99-year-old Philip have spent the festive period at Windsor, rather than heading to Sandringham in Norfolk, in more than 30 years, in a bid to keep them safe during the Covid-19 crisis.

The Queen holds a weekly audience with the Prime Minister, traditionally face-to-face but now over the phone, but last week’s was postponed to allow Boris Johnson to focus on the race to secure a post-Brexit trade agreement.

The pair usually speak every Wednesday and, although the monarch remains politically neutral on all matters, she is able to “advise and warn” her ministers – including her prime minister – when necessary, according to the royal family’s official website.

The Queen was dragged into a constitutional row during her summer holiday in August 2019 amid Westminster’s bitter Brexit battles when Mr Johnson asked 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 Mr Johnson, she approved an order to temporarily close – or prorogue – Parliament for five weeks.

Opposition leaders wrote to the Queen in protest and then-Commons speaker John Bercow said the move was a “constitutional outrage” designed to stop Parliament debating Brexit.

In the end, the Supreme Court ruled Mr Johnson’s advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating Parliament.

During the 2017 State Opening of Parliament, the Queen’s speech, written by the government, laid out the Brexit legislation it intended to pass during the parliamentary session.

Some suggested the monarch’s hat, which was blue with yellow floral details, resembled the EU flag.

State Opening of Parliament 2017
The Queen in what was dubbed her ‘EU hat’ at the State Opening of Parliament in 2017 (Carl Court/PA)

But the Queen’s senior dresser Angela Kelly, who designed the piece with milliner Stella McLaren, insisted it was not a coded message.

“It was a coincidence but, boy, did it attract a lot of attention, and it certainly made us smile,” she wrote in her memoirs.

Although the Queen remains politically neutral, commentators saw her words in 2019 as a nod to the toxic mood of the public debate around Britain leaving the EU.

In a speech to mark the centenary of the Sandringham Women’s Institute (WI), she spoke in favour of individuals seeking “common ground” and “never losing sight of the bigger picture” in what was interpreted as a veiled reference to Brexit.

WI centenary celebrations
The Queen, with the Princess Royal and the Countess of Wessex, at the Women’s Institute centenary celebrations (Chris Jackson/PA)

She has also used her Christmas messages in recent years to allude to differences and call for greater understanding.

In 2019, she acknowledged the “bumpy” path her family and the country had experienced during the past 12 months.

She said the Christmas message of peace and goodwill was a reminder of what could be achieved when people abandon their differences and “come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation”.

During a state visit by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands in October 2018, the Queen spoke publicly about Brexit for the first time, telling him that “as we look toward a new partnership with Europe” the values shared by the UK and the Netherlands “are our greatest assets”.

The Queen’s focus in 2020 has been the Covid-19 crisis.

Such unprecedented times saw the monarch make not one but two rare televised addresses to the nation, telling a troubled country in lockdown: “We will meet again.”

During the referendum campaign in 2016, a major row broke out over a front-page story that said the Queen supported EU withdrawal.

The Sun’s report said an anonymous source had told the paper she had voiced strong Eurosceptic views during a lunch in 2011 with then-deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Queen and Nick Clegg
Former deputy PM Nick Clegg said claims that the Queen had voiced strong Eurosceptic views at a lunch were ‘preposterous’ (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The former Liberal Democrat leader later said the suggestion the Queen had given him a “tongue lashing” about Europe was “preposterous”.

Mr Clegg, now Sir Nick, said then-justice secretary Michael Gove was behind the story, but Mr Gove has never confirmed the allegation.

Buckingham Palace complained to the press watchdog Ipso over the “Queen backs Brexit” front page.

Ipso upheld the complaint and ruled the headline was inaccurate, although The Sun stood by its article.