Why the queen won't vote on Brexit

Britain votes Thursday on whether to remain a part of the European Union, but as convention dictates, Queen Elizabeth II will not cast a vote. 

Phil Noble/Reuters
Britain's Queen Elizabeth II arrives at Liverpool Lime Street Station in Liverpool, England, on Wednesday.

Millions of people will cast their votes Thursday to determine whether Britain remains a part of the European Union, but one high-profile citizen does not have a say in the matter: Queen Elizabeth II. 

While the queen does have certain formal and ceremonial roles related to the government, as head of state she "has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters, unable to vote or stand for election," according to the official website of the royal family.

In theory, the royal family could legally register to vote, if they so wished. But as per tradition, "the queen is above politics," a spokesman for Buckingham Palace told The New York Times. 

"The key thing in this country is that a lot of our Constitution is based on convention," the spokesman said. "And it's a convention that the royal family do not vote in general elections, and this is very much an extension of that convention." 

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, also do not vote

Queen Elizabeth II's official neutrality has not stopped others from speculating about her opinions, though. 

In March, British tabloid The Sun reported that the queen was in favor of leaving the European Union, with a headline that read: "Revealed: Queen Backs Brexit." The story featured an anonymous source who claimed that during a lunch at Windsor Castle, the queen said she "believed the EU was heading in the wrong direction." 

Immediately following the story's publication, Buckingham Palace lodged a formal complaint against The Sun with Britain's Independent Press Standards Organization, saying that the queen stays out of politics.

Later that month, The Guardian reported that the royal family was "considering dramatic Brexit intervention" by announcing support for Britain remaining in the EU, in part because of "deep" anger over the Sun's report. 

This is not the first time the queen's political leanings, or lack of leanings, have been questioned.

Most recently, in 2014, when Scotland held a referendum on whether to separate from Britain, many believed the queen wanted Scotland to stay. Several days prior to the referendum vote, following a Sunday morning church service, she told a well-wisher that she hoped the Scottish people would "think very carefully about the future."

Belief that the queen did not support Scottish independence grew more widespread when Prime Minister David Cameron was overheard telling former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a private conversation that the queen had "purred" when he informed her that Scotland voted to reject succession. Mr. Cameron later apologized for his remarks.

The most recent polls for Brexit show supporters of remaining in the EU in a narrow lead, with 52 percent to 48 percent. The results will be announced on Friday, Britain's Electoral Commission says.

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