Queen Skipping Speech Starts Debate About Her Stepping Aside for Charles

Queen Elizabeth II pulled out of giving the queen's speech leaving Prince Charles to give it for her and raising the prospect of a step back as sovereign.

The 96-year-old is Britain's longest reigning monarch in history and is just more than two years short of being the world's.

However, the palace cited "episodic mobility problems" as they announced she would not be able to make a key, symbolic commitment in her role as sovereign.

Elizabeth will not read the queen's speech this year at the State Opening of Parliament on May 10, calling on her eldest son Charles to step in and read it on her behalf.

Queen, Charles at Opening of Parliament
Prince Charles accompanies his mother Queen Elizabeth II at the State Opening of Parliament on December 19, 2019. Charles will read the Queen's Speech on her behalf at the State Opening of Parliament on May 10. Richard Pohle - WPA Pool/Getty Images

Prince Charles will be accompanied by Prince William as the first and second in line to the throne show the world what the future of royalty looks like.

The move has triggered suggestions Britain could be sliding towards a de facto "regency" when the Prince of Wales takes over from the monarch for health reasons.

Strikingly, the discussion appears to be happening among both Monarchists and Republicans, though the former were more sympathetic than the latter.

Not least, the speculation is fueled by the fact the Regency Act of 1937 created the mechanism through which Prince Charles was able to take over from the queen.

A Buckingham Palace statement read: "The Queen continues to experience episodic mobility problems, and in consultation with her doctors has reluctantly decided that she will not attend the State Opening of Parliament tomorrow.

"At Her Majesty's request, and with the agreement of the relevant authorities, The Prince of Wales will read The Queen's speech on Her Majesty's behalf, with The Duke of Cambridge also in attendance."

The Sun ran the splash headline "Crown... and Out," while the front page of the pro-royal Daily Mail asked: "Is Queen's absence today the first step towards a Charles Regency?"

Robert Hardman, author of Queen of Our Times, wrote in the Mail: "Inevitably, this historic moment will be seen by many as the first step towards a Regency, the point at which a Regent is appointed in the event that a monarch steps aside due to 'infirmity of mind or body.' The comparison is obvious.

"There will be those who point out, perfectly correctly, that when this happened last time, the Prince of Wales had been formally installed as the Prince Regent since 1810, following the advancing mental decline of his father, George III.

"So is history repeating itself? It must be stressed that this is emphatically not what is happening today."

Hardman pointed to the fact the operation to have Charles stand in for Elizabeth uses a different section of the Regency Act to the one used in the case of George III and has been used before, including by Queen Victoria.

Elizabeth herself has also skipped the State Opening of Parliament twice before when she was pregnant, however, this will be the first time Prince Charles has read the speech on her behalf.

It also comes after months of health concerns led to so many canceled visits and engagements that it has become hard to keep track of them.

Queen Uses a Walking Stick
Queen Elizabeth II has been seen using a walking stick, here at The Senedd, in Cardiff, Wales, on October 14, 2021. The Monarch turned 96 in April 2022. Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Anti-Monarchy campaign group Republic wrote on Twitter: "It's time for honesty about the Queen's position. What is increasingly obvious is that she is no longer able to carry out most of the functions of her role.

"Rather than honesty we get the repeated claim that she has 'periodic mobility' issues, followed by promises she'll attend events which she later withdraws from.

"It would be better for all involved, including the British people, if we had an honest account of the Queen's health. There is no shame in admitting to being too frail to continue.

"There is no shame in saying you'd rather not continue. There is a problem with dishonest and misleading claims by faceless officials and the head of state's son stepping in while she remains head of state."

However, Republic's intervention may highlight just how high the stakes are in Elizabeth's decision about her future.

Graham Smith, the organization's chief executive, previously told Newsweek that when Prince Charles takes over he expects the reign of King Charles to precipitate the collapse of the monarchy in countries around the world that currently count the queen as head of state.

Elizabeth is adored by the British public, with a net approval rating of +66 according to recent YouGov data, and around the world.

For now, though, the queen has her reign to celebrate, 70 years of it in fact, as she marks her Platinum Jubilee over four days in early June.

There will be celebrations across the country, a pageant involving 10,000 people, a concert at the palace, and, among officials, hopes that the queen's health will hold out for her to appear in person for as much of it as possible.

For more royal news and commentary check out Newsweek's The Royal Report podcast: