- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 25, 2012

LONDON (AP) — Britons got a rare glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II’s personal views Tuesday when a prominent BBC reporter told a live radio audience about a conversation he had with the queen in which she apparently described telling a minister of her concern about the continued liberty of radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri.

The BBC and the reporter, Frank Gardner, apologized within hours for breaching the queen’s confidence. Still, the remarks raised questions about the queen’s role in British public life.

• Why did Mr. Gardner’s comments cause such a stir in Britain?

The queen never gives interviews or holds press conferences and, as a constitutional monarch, is prohibited from getting involved in politics. She usually keeps her views within a trusted circle, making the revelation that she had spoken to a government minister about the likelihood that Mr. al-Masri had broken the law quite unusual. For some, it raised the idea that she had perhaps gone too far, taking an active stance in a key issue involving national security.

• What’s the point of being queen if you can’t speak out?

As a constitutional monarch, the queen does not make policy. According to the British monarchy’s official website, the queen does not ‘rule’ the country but plays important ceremonial and formal roles. She is described as acting “solely on the advice of her Ministers.” She does not have the power to start a prosecution or to make judgments in a criminal case.

• How about her family?

The queen’s eldest son, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, sometimes has angered critics with his habit of writing to ministers about policy matters. He also has made his outspoken opinions on modern architecture well known, occasionally angering developers and architects. In 2009, architects Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry accused Charles of using his royal position to attack plans to turn a former army barracks in London into luxury homes.

Charles has also tried to shape the public debate on genetically modified foods (he opposes the technology) and has championed organic farming and a number of environmental causes.

• So, did the queen go too far by discussing the al-Masri case?

That depends whom you ask. There is no indication in the BBC report that the queen tried to influence the government on Mr. al-Masri, a radical cleric who has fought British efforts to deport him for years. But critics of the monarchy still maintain she stepped beyond her traditional, accepted role.

“We’re told the queen is above politics and never gets involved, yet she has apparently admitted that she had interfered in a controversial issue,” said Graham Smith, chief of the anti-monarchy group Republic. He suggested the comments indicated that the queen often meddles behind the scenes.

But prominent historian Andrew Roberts said the queen was perfectly justified. He said her comments were consistent with her constitutional role, which allows her to “advise, encourage and warn” government ministers without directly intervening.

“This is exactly what the monarch should be doing,” he said. “As usual, she’s got it bang-on right.”

He said most public figures respect the queen’s expectation of confidentiality — particularly the prime ministers she has met with weekly since 1952.

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