Princess Beatrice is also affected by a change in longstanding tradition
Buckingham Palace announced on Wednesday that the King, 75, will have a “corrective procedure” for the benign condition next week, prompting royal watchers to wonder if other family members will be tapped for additional duties in his absence. While a royal source tells PEOPLE that the King 75, will be capable of fulfilling his constitutional requirements and duties during this time, The Times spotted that Prince Harry and Prince Andrew’s Counsellor of State eligibility was quietly nullified soon after King Charles’ accession.
In the second reading of the Counsellors of State Bill 2022-23 in the House of Lords on Nov. 21, 2022, Lord True said that the Royal Household confirmed that, in practice, only “working members of the Royal Family will be called on to act as Counsellors of State.” The bill became law in December 2022 and made headlines because it made Princess Anne and Prince Edward Counsellors of State for King Charles for life. The “working members” stipulation largely flew under the radar — until now.
Although Prince Harry, 39, and Prince Andrew, 63, are technically Counsellors of State, both have stepped back from their royal duties, so they won’t be tapped for the royal responsibility.
In another catch, The Times reported that Prince Andrew’s eldest daughter Princess Beatrice is also prevented from acting as a Counsellor of State because she is not a working royal. While Princess Beatrice, 35, is a frequent fixture at royal family holidays and is a patron of several causes, she does not undertake official engagements on a full-time basis on behalf of the crown like Prince William and Kate Middleton do.
In times of need, the British sovereign can call on their Counsellors of State to step up to help manage the monarchy. The Counsellors of State can act on the monarch’s behalf through the Letters Patent in the event of temporary incapacity or absence from the U.K.
The Counsellor of State position typically belongs to the sovereign's spouse, followed by the first four people in the line of succession over the age of 21. Queen Camilla, Prince William, Prince Harry, Prince Andrew and Princess Beatrice were the Counsellors of State before Princess Anne and Prince Edward were added last year. The BBC reported that the bill was “fast-tracked” through Parliament to resolve the potential for an “awkward constitutional problem” as King Charles’ reign began shortly after Harry and Andrew both stepped back from their working royal roles.
Because Prince Harry and Prince Andrew were no longer working royals, Parliament felt it was best to expand the cohort to include two more people who could be called upon to stand in for King Charles. The Counsellors of State Act 2022 amends the Regency Acts 1937 to 1953, which were upheld as precedents until this point.
Prince Harry stepped back as a senior working royal and relocated to California in 2020, and Queen Elizabeth stripped Prince Andrew of his military titles and patronages due to his association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in January 2022.
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The royal family’s website outlines that two or more Counsellors of State would be required to come together to act on the King’s behalf and could pursue duties such as attending Privy Council meetings, signing documents and receiving credentials of new ambassadors to the U.K. However, the Counsellors of State do not have the delegation to manage Commonwealth matters, dissolve Parliament (“except on His Majesty's express instruction”), create peers or appoint a prime minister.
In one colorful example shared by the House of Commons Library, the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret came together as Counsellors of State in 1974 to declare a state of emergency and dissolve Parliament for an election to take place — with Queen Elizabeth’s permission, of course. The Queen had been abroad in Australia and returned overnight.
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