Queen on Brexit: I'd rather not take sides

The queen of England has been accused of backing a Brexit in a British tabloid, but she has responded with unusual fire to defend the crown's political neutrality.

Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Britain's Queen Elizabeth smiles during a visit to the Prince's Trust Centre in London, on Tuesday. She responded with a formal complaint Wednesday to a press watchdog after a tabloid suggested she takes sides on whether the UK should remain in the EU.

Queen Elizabeth II, the living symbol of the United Kingdom's unity, is widely regarded as a woman who knows her own mind. 

The British public, however, is not supposed to know about it.

So when a British tabloid newspaper ran the front-page headline "Queen backs Brexit" to suggest the Kingdom's foremost royal had commented on a highly controversial debate, the royal public relations office wasted no time responding, The Independent's Ashley Cowburn reported.

“The Queen remains politically neutral, as she has for 63 years," Buckingham Palace said in a statement, according to The Independent. "We would never comment on spurious, anonymously sourced claims. The referendum will be a matter for the British people.”

Regardless of the queen's feelings about the EU or her country's role inside it, The Sun's claims threaten a core element of Britain's modern monarchy: political neutrality. Britain has maintained its precarious balance of evolved democracy only as the monarchy knows its limits. In the 21st century, those limits require the queen to stay neutral in political debate.

"As Head of State The Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters, unable to vote or stand for election," according to the British monarchy's official website.

The British tabloid The Sun used unnamed sources to describe an alleged conversation several years before "Brexit," or the debate on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, overwhelmed British political politics. According to The Sun, the queen left her lunch guests stunned by her strong words for then-Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg when she "let rip," leaving them "in no doubt at all about the Queen’s views on European integration." The article also cited a separate conversation in which she allegedly said she could not understand Europe. 

Mr. Clegg said he had already told the journalist the story was "nonsense," and repudiated the story on Twitter.

The queen has responded even more firmly. For the first time ever, Buckingham Palace has registered a complaint on the queen's behalf with the press watchdog Independent Press Standards Organisation, Michael Wilkinson reported for The Telegraph. It is also the first such letter to take issue with violations of political neutrality; previous complaints had concerned the publication of revealing photos of Prince Harry and Sophie Rhys-Jones, now Countess of Wessex.

If she did express an opinion on Britain's EU debate, it would break with decades of the very traditions that grant her power, constitutional expert Professor Vernon Bogdanor of London said.

"The Queen's been on the throne for over 60 years," he said, according to The Telegraph. "She's acted constitutionally throughout. It's absurd to suggest that now she would break from that tradition."

The Sun's political editor insisted the public's right to know overrides other concern, but the BBC reported that the queen's unusual letter of complaint to a press watchdog suggests how much the monarch values the ideal of political neutrality.

"It is unusual for the Queen to take action against a newspaper," Peter Hunt wrote. "It is a sign of the depth of regal displeasure. It is the Sun headline, 'Queen Backs Brexit' which is both toxic and very troubling to an institution which prides itself on remaining above the political fray."

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