Last week, the world saw the curtains go down on the reign and life of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom. She was given a State funeral on Monday 19 September, and buried at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, where she was laid to rest alongside her parents King George VI and the Queen Mother; her husband Prince Philip, and her sister Princess Margaret. At 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth was the longest-reigning monarch in British history, and perhaps in the history of all modern monarchies. She earned the wide respect and reverence of the people of Britain, Scotland, Wales and North Ireland, as well as the Commonwealth Realm. This respect and reverence was built over long years of firmly embracing the Constitution, and keenly observing the interests of the peoples and respecting their various ethnicities. Queen Elizabeth became a long-loved and venerated icon, so much so that many wonder today how would her heir, King Charles III, fare? Will he add value to his mother’s enormous achievement, or would he reduce it?
A rather thorny issue that keeps on coming to the fore is whether countries under the British Crown will decide to stay on with the King as their head of State, or prefer independence. The Queen, who is no longer there, had long been a ‘safety valve’ that kept these countries from secession. The last 50 years witnessed calls and attempts by peoples of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth to secede, declare their independence from the British Crown, and turn into republics. Some of these voices emerged inside England, the stronghold of the Crown. None of these calls bore fruit. That was in a way thanks to the huge value represented by Queen Elizabeth II and the robust bond she forged with the States and Realms of the Crown. Today however, the Queen has departed, and the world closely watches King Charles III to see how he fills his mother’s shoes; this includes whether or not he would be able to hold intact the realm of the British Crown as it was handed to him by the late Queen. In this context, two situations especially stand out.
King Charles III will face a great challenge in preserving the unity of the “United Kingdom”. Calls for secession and independence have been repeatedly sounded during the last decades in Scotland and North Ireland where republican and nationalist streams feel that the time has come to break away from the UK, in order for Scotland to become an independent State, and for North Ireland to join the Republic of Ireland thus reuniting the Irish island. It is believed that the unique presence and communication of Queen Elizabeth II with the people of Scotland and North Ireland has kept them connected to the British crown, and held at bay calls for secession. Now it is King Charles’s role to handle the matter.
As to Commonwealth nations, King Charles III faces challenges the results of which are unpredictable. When Prince William and Catherine toured the Commonwealth Caribbean nations of Belize, Jamaica, and the Bahamas in March 2022 in celebration of the Queen’s platinum jubilee, they were greeted with calls for independence from the UK, and demands that Britain pays slavery reparations. In Jamaica, the Prime Minister told the royals that the country would be “moving on” to become a republic, and a government committee in the Bahamas urged the royals to issue “a full and formal apology for their crimes against humanity”. Once back home, Prince William declared: “This tour has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future,” and that it was up to “the people” to decide upon their future and their involvement with the British monarchy.”
Along the same line, it is impossible to overlook what the days hold in store for the Falkland Islands, currently under the realm of the British crown. The UK had seized the islands from Argentina, which gave rise to the naval war that took place in 1982 when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of UK.
Again, republicans in Canada, Australia and New Zealand have been gaining ground, and appear set to gain even more ground now that Queen Elizabeth is dead; it is becoming more uncertain which, if any, of these States will remain under the British Crown in the future.
All these challenges indicate that the fate awaiting King Charles III as he sits on the throne his mother Queen Elizabeth II sat on for so long is nothing he can be envied for.
23 September 2022