State Opening of Parliament: The Queen may not be fully stepping away, but her heirs are stepping up

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It's a duty that has punctuated her 70-year reign, and the Queen has only missed the state opening of parliament twice -when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and Prince Edward.

Now, 59 years after the last time she couldn't attend, she's asking her heirs to take her place, for this year at least.

It is an extraordinary moment for the monarchy, to hear Her Majesty has authorised a letters patent to hand over one of her chief constitutional roles.

By law, she could have handed over to any of the 'Counsellors of State'. These include the sovereign's spouse, which would have been the late Duke of Edinburgh, and the next four people in the line of succession who are over the age of 21, currently the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge, the Duke of Sussex and the Duke of York.

The delegation of powers to Counsellors of State is made by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of the Realm, which the Queen will sign.

On Tuesday, in the deeply traditional setting of the House of Lords, among the historic ceremony, we will see a glimpse of the future, the Prince of Wales, the future king reading the monarch's speech for the first time, watched and supported by Prince William, his heir.

It isn't completely unexpected. For weeks there have been questions about whether the Queen would be able to do it because she's been having problems with her mobility. Just like the Commonwealth Day service and the Maundy service which she didn't attend, the state opening would have involved a lot of walking and sitting.

But ask constitutional experts, and it was always going to be fascinating to see how she decided to delegate such an important responsibility.

In practice we are seeing our constitution flex and change to accommodate an ageing monarch.

In recent months, the Queen herself has admitted struggling to walk and catching COVID also increased concerns about her health.

But at 96 she has seemed on good form, as the preparations build up for her platinum jubilee. And just as we saw for Prince Philip's memorial, plans are now being put in place to cut down on how much she has to be seen walking.

The softly-softly approach to transition has been happening for some time - Prince Charles placing the Queen's wreath at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, Prince William representing her on overseas tours. But the palace has been keen to stress her son and grandson will jointly open parliament as counsellors of state.

This is not a Prince Regent style handover to the Prince of Wales, and no other functions have been delegated by the Queen.

To mark the start of her Platinum Jubilee year, the monarch pledged to continue to serve her country.

While this state opening is unprecedented - a new chapter - she is not stepping away, but appreciates this is the right time for her heirs to symbolically step in.

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