For the 13th time in her 67-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II participated in the quaint-but-crucial royal ritual of the transfer of power from one U.K. prime minister to the next – as Twitter watched from the sidelines and hooted.
First, PM No. 13, Theresa May, arrived at Buckingham Palace Wednesday for an audience to tender her resignation, “which Her Majesty was graciously pleased to accept,” said the one-line palace press release.
Within the hour, incoming PM Boris Johnson arrived for his audience with Her Majesty and, as called for under the ritual, the queen requested he form a new government. He is the 14th prime minister of the queen’s reign; Winston Churchill was already in office when the queen came to the throne in 1952.
“Mr. Johnson accepted Her Majesty’s offer and kissed hands upon his appointment as Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury,” the palace statement reported.
The picture showed him bowing a bit awkwardly, half clasping her hand. She was dressed in her usual royal outfit of a blue patterned dress, her black handbag on her left arm.
Queen Elizabeth II welcomes newly elected leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson during an audience where she invited him to become Prime Minister and form a new government, at Buckingham Palace on July 24, 2019. (Photo: Victoria Jones/WPA Pool, Getty Images)
(The purest delight about this picture was expressed by British appliance maker Dyson, which spotted one of its products in the room where they met and seized the opportunity to press a marketing advantage. “If this fan is good enough for the queen, it’s good enough for you!,” declared Heather Skolnik, a Dyson spokeswoman, in emails to the media.)
The jibes about Boris and the queen on Twitter began immediately, focused along the lines of fantasizing “what if” the queen had not carried out her constitutional task: Put her royal imprimatur on what politicians have already decided will be done.
“Wouldn’t it have been great if the Queen had just said “No” to Boris Johnson?” tweeted Mal.
Wouldn't it have been great if the Queen had just said "No" to Boris Johnson?
“Wouldn’t be funny if the Queen actually said No to Boris,” asked Jane Nightingale, following her question with laughing emojis.
Wouldn’t be funny if the Queen actually said No to Boris ???.
And there were memes. “Wouldn’t it be great if the Queen said to Boris, feck off no chance!,” tweeted Cheryl with a video clip of the queen looking grumpy and the words “One is Not Amused” flashing.
Wouldn't it be great if the Queen said to Boris, feck off no chance! #BorisJohnsonPM#PrimeMinisterpic.twitter.com/0eLwjarJQ4
Of course, the queen can’t say no – as head of state, her job is to officially “appoint” the prime minister, following her government’s instructions. But even some Brits wondered if she could, uh, refuse.
“Can the Queen say no?” tweeted Steve over a video clip of a child throwing a tantrum.
Can the Queen say no? #borispic.twitter.com/aYhYmJbyDW
Meanwhile, on The Mall outside the palace, climate-change protesters briefly blocked Johnson’s car from entering the palace gates.
Thus began a new governing administration for the British people and for Johnson’s Conservative Party.
Greenpeace protesters briefly blocked the route of Boris Johnson as he was driven to meet the Queen, to demand he “get to grips with the climate emergency” pic.twitter.com/ul1Q9Z3qx0
And thus began the queen’s much beloved annual holiday in Scotland, which she had delayed in order to be in London to participate in the ritual. Vanity Fair reported the queen’s demeanor, “while professional, also screams ‘I am going on vacation the minute you leave.’ ”
The transfer of power has been inevitable for months, ever since May announced she would resign after her repeated failures to persuade Parliament to approve her Brexit deal.
It became certain Tuesday after Tories (those who were paid up in their party dues) voted Johnson to be their next leader, thus allowing the rambunctious former London mayor to achieve his longtime dream of being in charge. (The Tories run the government because they won the last general election.)
It may all seem a little puzzling to Americans accustomed to years-long presidential campaigns: A tiny percentage of the national population can vote to change leaders and suddenly he’s the head of government? Well, yes, that’s how they do it in a parliamentary system – and the Brits have been doing it this way more or less for hundreds of years.
Everyone has a role to play: May surely did not relish giving up power to Johnson (her party rival, a fierce critic and “do-or-die” Brexiteer), but during her audience with the monarch she has to “advise” the queen about who to call on to form the next government.
Which, of course, the queen already knows; she reads the newspapers, too. And she’s been on the job a lot longer than any current politician. Once she does so, it’s announced in the court circular and the new PM is officially appointed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is clapped into 10 Downing Street on July 24, 2019, by staff after seeing Queen Elizabeth II and accepting her invitation to become prime minister and form a new government. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau / POOL, EPA-EFE)
But what did the queen really think about the momentous changes she had just presided over? The monarch is supposed to be above politics and Queen Elizabeth II has stuck to those rules throughout her reign. So she’ll never tell – but Johnson might.
According to Vincent McAviney, a correspondent for NBC News and Euronews, Johnson broke with convention by repeating something he said the queen told him, and had to be warned not to do that again.
“ ‘I don’t know why anyone would want the job’ – what Johnson says HM the Queen told him during his audience! The PM revealed it during a tour in Number 10 before being told off by staff not to repeat those things so loudly,” McAviney tweeted of Johnson’s trip to 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence.
Exclusive: “I don’t know why anyone would want the job” – what Johnson says HM the Queen told him during his audience! The PM revealed it during a tour in Number 10 before being told off by staff not to repeat those things so loudly. ?:PA pic.twitter.com/r5CX4LbnXa
Of course, the palace would never confirm such a thing, and Johnson’s relationship with the truth has been shown in the past to be sometimes tenuous.
But for however long his time as PM lasts, he will meet weekly with the queen for an audience that is supposed to require zipped lips by the two participants. But Johnson might spill more beans than any of his 13 predecessors.
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