What happens if the Queen retires?

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  • Amid rumours that our longest-lived monarch might step back in 18 months’ time, could there be a bigger role for Prince Charles?

    Big birthday

    The Queen will turn 95 in April 2021 and it is increasingly speculated that after a lifetime of service she might use this milestone to take a well-deserved but unofficial ‘retirement’ from official duties – while still remaining as the British monarch.

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    In Charles at Seventy: Thoughts, Hopes and Dreams, Robert Jobson suggests the Queen could ‘trigger a period of regency’ at the age of 95 that will give her eldest son the ‘full power to reign’. So she wouldn’t be abdicating, but the Prince of Wales would carry out royal duties in her name.


    Despite a palace insider saying she had given ‘considerable thought’ to ‘passing the reign to Charles’, a separate royal expert reveals that’s not officially possible. ‘The Queen cannot retire without abdicating,’ they insist.

    A ‘shadow king’?

    While the Queen is in good health, ‘she intends to serve while that permits’, according to the experts. But anyone who’s reached the age of 93 knows that ill health could be around the corner. Although Prince Charles, next in line to the throne, cannot take over the reins unless the Queen officially abdicates, there are rules to state he can ‘deputise’ should she fall ill.

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    Were the Queen to become incapacitated in some way, the Regency Act of 1937 would allow Prince Charles to deputise. This bill, proposed in 1789, came into force in 1811 after George III was deemed unfit to rule due to illness and his son ruled as Prince Regent.

    What we may see is Charles slowly becoming a ‘shadow king’ as the Queen steps back. ‘I think we will definitely see a stepping back – I don’t think we’ll see a massive handover,’ says Royal expert Russell Myers. ‘It will be a very, very subtle process. ‘We won’t see a sudden coronation of King Charles. Certainly, her taking more of a back seat, the patronages are already being passed over.’

    The official statement

    Despite the level of speculation, a spokesperson for Clarence House says the Queen has every intention of ruling until the end of her life. ‘There are no plans for any change in arrangements at the age of 95 – or any other age.’

    In no other walk of life would we expect anyone to still be working hard at the age of 95, so if that’s true, it displays a truly extraordinary commitment to public service!