King Charles is shifting away from his mother’s politically neutral stance by being more “confrontational” on issues he cares about, a royal historian has said.

Where he sees there is public consensus for action on a pressing issue of the day, such as climate change or cost of living, the monarch is unafraid to take a side, according to royal historian Ed Owens.

However, this attitude brings risks in the future if that consensus evaporates and the King is seen as a partisan figure.

“Charles has certainly diverged from his mother’s way of playing the role of constitutional monarch,” said Dr Owens.

“Certainly, as the health of Elizabeth II declined, the examples of her inserting herself into politics dropped considerably below where they were earlier in her reign. As such, many will remember her now as the perfect embodiment of constitutional monarchy by rarely being seen to intervene.”

After the Queen’s death last year, Charles sought to reassure the public of a smooth transition to his reign, saying the “issues” he cared “deeply” for in the past would be left to others to pursue.

But it appears the monarch will push his own agenda if he feels it important enough. Following the very public row over whether he would attend the COP27 conference in Egypt, Charles, who feels strongly about climate change matters, ended up holding his own pre-conference reception at Buckingham Palace instead.

“In the past, if the Government of the day had advised the Palace that attendance at a particular event or location was not desirable, then it was not the habit of the monarch to make it known that such advice was being accepted against his or her better judgement,” said Dr Owens, author of The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public

“Charles is pursuing what I would describe as a policy of confrontational constitutionalism. He is taking issues where there is a consensual public view in support of something, for example the need to do more on climate change. We all know he was a leading ambassador on this issue as Prince of Wales, but as monarch he is pursuing quite a different version of constitutionalism to what came before.

“He sees his role as helping to find consensus and seeking to promote that consensus within the public and governmental sphere.”

Charles’s lasting reputation for interventions as Prince of Wales and his current role as monarch leave him with a delicate balancing act to remain suitably neutral. Many are quick to judge.

His meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at Windsor Castle earlier this week placed Charles at the centre of the highly controversial issue of a Brexit deal for Northern Ireland.

Some politicians were incredulous the King was involved, either of his own accord or under the guidance of the Government, with Buckingham Palace and Downing Street holding each other responsible for the meeting.

The optics caused a political stir, with former DUP leader Baroness Arlene Foster saying it “will go down very badly” – although Foreign Secretary James Cleverly insisted it was “not unusual” for the King to meet senior international figures.

Professor Robert Hazell, of the Constitution Unit at University College London, disputes the idea that Charles is wading in on political matters.

“A constitutional monarch acts on the advice of his Government, with the Prime Minister being his principal constitutional adviser. Despite some suggestions from No 10 that it was the King’s decision to meet Ursula von der Leyen, I would expect it was done on advice.

“So critics of the decision are effectively saying the King should have rejected that advice, and refused to meet Ursula von der Leyen. It would have been a brave monarch to refuse to follow governmental advice. I would expect the late Queen to have done the same as King Charles.”

Dr Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, added that the row over the King’s meeting with Ms von der Leyen “shows the risks Charles faces that No 10 should be far more sensitive towards”.

Dr Craig Prescott, an expert in UK constitutional law and politics at Bangor University, said there remain concern Charles might be tempted to meddle in politics.

“But I don’t think we have seen any evidence of this. For example, we know how deeply he feels about the environment, but he followed the advice of the then Prime Minister not to attend COP last year.

“What we have seen is something more subtle. We’ve seen the monarchy is keen to reflect the times and issues facing the country. For example, the King chose not to take the profits from the Crown Estate’s wind farms, leaving that with the Treasury – it shows that he’s mindful of the cost of living crisis facing many in the country.”

King Charles mentioned the crisis in his first Christmas broadcast and gave an additional payment to some of his lower paid staff.

It could be argued the Queen herself put her head above the parapet on a select number of occasions, including when she said she hoped “people will think very carefully about the future” ahead of the Scottish independence referendum. Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying “any suggestion that the Queen would wish to influence the outcome of the current referendum campaign is categorically wrong”.

Perhaps much like Charles now, the Northern Ireland peace process is a matter where the late Queen felt comfortable being deployed to help. Her state visit to Dublin in 2011 which was widely praised as a gesture of reconciliation.

Dr Owens warned that Charles’s “confrontational constitutionalism” is not without problems, particularly as issues like climate change could put him at odds with the public in the future.

“The bigger risk comes in the longer term as it becomes clearer to the British public the sheer scale of the sacrifices they will be asked to make to deal with the impacts of climate change. I think there is a good chance that climate cynicism will gain more interest in the British population.

“At this point, the King goes from finding himself representing a very different view not only from a small section of the Conservative Party but also a significant proportion of his people.”

Dr Owens added: “You have this situation where what was a mainstream issue becomes a more contentious issue and therefore more dangerous for a monarch to speak out on.”

Many will be watching to see how closely Charles follows his remit as monarch but one act unlikely to change is meetings with world leaders of countries with questionable human rights or democratic credentials.

It is understood the view in the royal circle is that meetings with fellow heads of state are a routine part of being a monarch and take place on the advice of the Government as part of soft power efforts.

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