The British prime minister brushed her sweeping blonde hair back from her eyes, giving herself a moment to consider what the new king had just asked her. It had to be said: Charles had taken on the mantle of sovereign before her eyes, with surprising ease.
Yes, he had spent his whole life waiting for this moment, as had the country, but the transformation from gangly awkward youth to a more well-filled figure had made him look, quite simply, more like a king.
Yes, he had built up a slightly eccentric reputation, but that was priced in by his people. But he was not seen as dangerously radical.
This question had not been seen coming.
She asked him to repeat the question, just so she could be sure.
“Prime minister, I would like for you to consider the possibility that, on the day of the next general election, we also put a vote to the British people asking them to endorse my accession to the throne.”
“Your majesty, might I ask why we would do such a thing?”
The king smiled.
“Because things have changed, prime minister. We are a kingdom but we are also a democracy and let us be clear: the monarch serves at the discretion of the people. I believe they should be consulted on it, especially given the longevity of my mother’s reign. She was in institution in her own right, separate from the monarchy itself. It needs to be renewed, and that must start with a clear endorsement from the people.”
“This is not without risk, your majesty. This could very easily open the way to a debate on us becoming a republic.”
“Perhaps it might: so be it. I have no desire to be head of state merely because the British people have no means of ridding themselves of me. Short of the traditional French method, of course.”
He mischievously ran his finger across his throat, and stuck he tongue out.
“There would be a lot of variables at play, sir. Might I play devil’s advocate for a moment?”
“Of course, prime minister.”
“What if they say no, or if Scotland or Northern Ireland vote no? What of the Commonwealth nations that share you as head of state? Do they get a vote?”
“Yes, I’ve considered these questions. A no vote is straightforward: it is a de facto vote for a republic, and the government should act accordingly. I will remain as acting head of state until the government legislates for an elected head of state to replace me. If one of the home nations votes against me, that will be sad but not a huge issue: after all, prime minister, three of the four home nations voted against you, and you’re still here.”
His eyes twinkled and he smiled at his first minister.
“The Commonwealth countries must decide their own paths, and we must respect them.”
“There is also, forgive me for saying this, and let me word this gently, the succession issue,” the PM said gently.
The king smiled.
“You mean the opinions polls that say my son and daughter in law are far more popular than me and people want him to be king?”
The PM nodded her head awkwardly.
“Who is the republican now? I’m not proposing a pick and mix, prime minister. If the British people wish to choose their head of state, and it is my son, so be it. But let them either endorse me or vote for a republic. A president, or perhaps even an elected king.”
“Well, I shall put it to the cabinet.”
“I intend to raise this with the Leader of the Opposition too.”
The prime minister, a former defence minister used to making serious choices, sat up straight in her seat.
“You majesty, I’m sure you have been advised that this is a policy that could mutate very quickly. The wider you discuss this, the greater the likelihood it will become public.”
“I am aware of that, prime minister.”
The PM nodded, and closed her briefing file. She stood and bowed to the monarch.
“One more thing prime minister,” the king said.
“You never told me if you thought I could win?”
The prime minister paused, and pondered the question.
“On the face of it, yes. I believe you would be endorsed. But what if it is only by a modest margin, your majesty? Supposing if there’s a campaign to vote against you so that Lorraine Kelly or Stephen Fry or Joanna Lumley or Attenborough can become head of state, and you are only endorsed by 52%, sir. What does that tell you? Is that enough of a mandate? Do we have a second vote? Another one in four years? One thing we do know: terrible tricky, those 52%s.”
The king stared blankly at the door for minutes after she had left.