Royal bombshell: How Charles 'stepped in to defend Queen in Prime Minister row'

PRINCE CHARLES wrote to defend the constitutional role of the Queen as he became personally involved in the the greatest political crisis to hit Australia in 1975 when Her Majesty's representative dismissed the Prime Minister, a book claims. 

Queen Elizabeth II may find herself in the highly unusual position of having to intervene in politics, as uncertainty in Parliament rises and the possibility of a vote of no-confidence in Boris Johnson has been floated. Added to this, Her Majesty astonished many this weekend when her apparent personal opinion on the UK’s political leadership came to light. However, when the Queen had to intervene in an Australian constitutional crisis in 1975, Prince Charles was also drawn into the affray and “interposed” himself into Australian politics. 

The 1975 episode, known as the Dismissal, has been described as the greatest political and constitutional crisis in Australian history, and one of its “most divisive and corrosive episodes”.

Researcher from the Institute of Government, Sarah Nickson, speaking to BBC Newsnight, said:  “In 1975 Australia faced its own constitutional crisis when the government was unable to get the Parliament to pass the bills needed to pay for things.

“Things like civil servants pay, essential services, so the country could have ground to a halt.

“The Governor-General, who is the Queen's representative in Australia, stepped in and sacked the Prime Minister and appointed the Opposition leader as an interim Prime Minister."

Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II

Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II (Image: Getty)

Gough Whitlam

PM Whitlam speaks after his dismissal in 1975 (Image: Getty)

Gough Whitlam was dismissed by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who then commissioned the Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser as caretaker Prime Minister.

Ms Nickson continued: “It damaged all involved, the incoming and outgoing Prime Minister and the Governor-General himself.”

The dismissal of Whitlam sparked protest demonstrations in Australia, and demands for the Queen to restore him as Prime Minister.

However, the Palace replied: “Her Majesty, as Queen of Australia, is watching events in Canberra with close interest and attention, but it would not be proper for her to intervene in person in matters which are so clearly placed within the jurisdiction of the Governor-General by the Constitution Act.”

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The outrage the Australian public felt over the Governor-General’s actions went on to spur the Republican movement in the country.  

Kerr was widely criticised by Australian Labor supporters for his actions, resigned early as Governor-General, and lived much of his remaining life abroad.

However, in 2015, it was alleged that at the time of the ‘Dismissal’ crisis, Charles exchanged correspondence with Governor-General Kerr on the matter.

Historian Jenny Hocking unearthed a 1975 letter from the Prince of Wales to Kerr.

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Queen Elizabeth II

The Queen pictured in 1975 (Image: Getty)

Governor-General Sir Martin Kerr

Governor-General Kerr with Lady Kerr, and Princess Anne, in 1975 (Image: Getty)

She claimed in her book, 'The Dismissal Dossier', that Kerr had been worried Prime Minister Whitlam might revoke his appointment as Governor-General, in order to prevent his own dismissal. 

However, Charles reportedly reassured him: “But surely, Sir John, the Queen should not have to accept advice that you should be recalled at the very time when you were considering having to dismiss the government.”

Kerr’s concern was then said to have been conveyed from Charles to the Queen’s private secretary, Sir Martin Charteris.

Sir Martin  then wrote to Kerr and told him that should this “contingency” arise, the Queen would try to delay things for as long as possible. 

Later, the Prince of Wales is said to have written to Kerr conveying his moral support. 

He reportedly urged Kerr "not to lose heart" in the face of domestic hostility.

Writing in 2015, Ms Hocking said: “By entering into this communication with Kerr over his own position, and agreeing even to consider a means of delaying it, the Palace had interposed itself directly into matters of Australian politics.”

The personal opinion of the Queen herself in the proceedings of 1975 is a matter of historical debate.

Her Majesty’s private secretary at the time, Sir William Heseltine, later said: “I think she is an old and wily bird about her own views. 

“To the extent that I could divine what she felt, I think she felt the same.

“I’m reasonably confident myself that she thought it could have been handled better."

In the present day, the Governor-General in Australia retains the power to dismiss government ministers, including the Prime Minister.

Prince Charles

Prince Charles in 1975 (Image: Getty)

Australian protests

The situation triggered protests in Australia (Image: BBC)

However, these powers have not since been used to force a government from office. 

Its relevance to the current political climate in Britain was discussed last week, as BBC Newsnight’s James Clayton  explained how the Queen may find herself in a “hugely difficult constitutional bind”.

Mr Clayton said: “If Boris Johnson loses a vote of no confidence but stays, we know that Jeremy Corbyn wants to form a government with permission from the Queen.

“The Queen therefore will be left in an impossible situation - does she replace the prime minister with Jeremy Corbyn?

UK General Election timeline

UK General election timeline (Image: DX)

“Or does she allow Boris Johnson to continue and set the date of an election?”

As the UK faces its own crisis, there is in fact a precedent for Her Majesty to choose the Prime Minister

Constitutionally, the Queen can choose the Prime Minister as she retains the “right to appoint” the premier, but conventions surrounding her role mean the monarch seldom, if ever, intervenes in matters of state. 

However, in 1963, the Queen appointed Alec Douglas-Home as Prime Minister despite him not being elected the leader of his party at the time. 

The move was highly controversial as she has traditionally been there to "consult, encourage and warn" the premier. 

Historian and biographer of Harold MacMillan, D R Thorpe, writing in 2012, explained why the appointment caused controversy.

He wrote: “When Macmillan resigned in October 1963, accusations were made that the Queen had colluded with his supposed blocking of the Deputy Prime Minister, Rab Butler, as his successor, leading to the controversial appointment of Alec Douglas-Home as the new Prime Minister. 

“Far from colluding, the Queen maintained the monarchy’s political impartiality, waiting for a name to be brought to her.”

However, he concludes: “Today it would be highly unusual if the Queen invited anyone to become Prime Minister who was not the acknowledged leader of the party commanding a majority in the House of Commons.”