It is up for question over whether the upcoming King Charles III can fill in Queen’s shoes – as the 96-year-old monarch has left a historical legacy.
The United Kingdom and Queen Elizabeth II's lovers around the world have mourned her passing on September 8. Even Britons who are staunch anti-monarchy republicans might acknowledge that she was perhaps a kinder character than those within the institution of the Royal Family.
Yet the passing of the Queen could have more impacts on the UK than just losing a head of state and a Queen. More than just a mere monarch, the Queen was not only the longest ruling monarch in Britain’s history, but she also ruled the UK from when Britain was an imperial power, having been crowned Queen in 1953, when Britain still controlled the Suez Canal and held protectorates and colonies in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Given the aging Queen’s declining health, the death is no surprise and for years Buckingham Palace had planned for her passing. Throughout several days of the 10-day mourning period until the Queen’s funeral, the UK’s stock markets, banks and other services will be closed intermittently, costing the UK’s GDP an estimated $1-7 billion. Thus, it could do further damage to Britain’s economy, which is already grappling with inflation, a cost-of-living crisis and risks tumbling into a recession.
The Queen’s Soft Power
Britain's soft power abroad is one potential casualty of the Queen’s death. Despite facing an apparent decline in global power, including a downsizing military and a shrinking economy, one aspect that has helped Britain maintain global influence is its soft power.
This has been through institutions like the BBC and British Council, universities attracting top academic talent globally. Various cultural impacts, including musicians and series, have played a role too. Of course, the English language being a global language has also played a vital role in Britain’s soft power.
The Queen has also played an important role in increasing Britain’s global soft power, and her death may play a role in any decline its influence may see.
Throughout the last 70 years, the Queen has arguably acted as the most important diplomatic representative for London, having charmed various heads of state through state and diplomatic visits during her reign. The Queen has been required to be apolitical, and this neutral approach has arguably been beneficial for Britain’s foreign relations.
Among them are US Presidents, of whom the Queen had met 13 out of 14 during her reign. Former President Barack Obama once remarked that “The American people are quite fond of the royal family. They like them much better than their own politicians.”
Interestingly, in 1982, then-US President Ronald Reagan made clear during a tour of European capitals that he was dead set on a horse ride with the Queen in her Windsor Estate, which Reagan later called a “fairy tale experience.” This act of diplomacy was claimed to have helped then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher secure Washington’s support in the Falklands War with Argentina that year.
The Queen also made a historic and ‘joyous’ visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011, which was the first visit of a British monarch since the country gained independence from British rule. The Queen’s interest in Irish culture and demonstrable support for British-Irish relations arguably bolstered ties between London and Dublin, following decades of low-level conflict with Northern Ireland included until 1998.
There have been limits on the Royal Family’s soft power abilities. For instance, during the Queen and other Royal Family members’ visits to former colonies like Jamaica and Barbados in the Caribbean and India, there have been demands for Britain to apologize and even pay reparations for the British Empire’s actions.
It is up for question over whether the upcoming King Charles III can replicate the Queen’s charm abroad, with many sceptics saying he lacks the gravitas and charm of Elizabeth II to uphold the Royal Family’s reputation. Although he has been in various shots, for instance joining a traditional swords dance with Saudi Arabian princes in 2014, this has arguably been a flashy episode within Britain’s already strong ties with the Gulf Kingdom.
A Commonwealth in doubt?
Another consequence of the Queen’s death could be the future of the Commonwealth, in which former British Crown Colonies have retained the Queen as their head of state. In countries like Australia, the Queen had remained popular, with 45 percent of adults saying they preferred the Queen as their head of state as opposed to 31 percent, according to a national poll last year.
Support for Australia becoming a republic has steadily declined in the last two decades, the Green Party leader Adam Bandt immediately called to renew the debate over Australia severing its ties to the British monarchy. Other movements like the Australian Republic Movement may also seek to renew the debate over republicanism, with leader Peter FitzSimons saying, “it is unlikely we will ever see a monarch as respected or admired by the Australian people again.”
Even last year, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she thinks the country will become a republic in her lifetime.
Both cases highlight how the Queen’s death may ignite future debates within other Commonwealth countries over ties to the British monarchy, particularly in the Caribbean, where anti-British sentiment runs deeper than that of countries like Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
Future of the monarchy
Another smaller benefactor of the Queen’s soft power has been the economy. The Royal Family and Buckingham Palace have played a role in attracting tourism to the UK. Estimates from 2021 show that the Royal Family brings in around £19 billion ($22 billion) per annum, most of which comes through tourism. Although many people visit London and the UK for reasons other than the Queen, this would likely contribute to a loss of income from the UK’s perspective.
As with Commonwealth countries, divisions within the UK could possibly seek to be exposed. Despite Scotland’s failed independence referendum in 2014, support for independence has continued. Since Brexit has been finalised – despite the Scottish public mostly seeking to remain a member of the European Union, and now the Queen has passed, Scottish nationalists may begin once again to raise questions about the future of the Union.
Britain’s future influence in the world does depend on other factors. Brexit has impacted Britain’s global reputation, and with the nomination of hard-headed Prime Minister Liz Truss, who took the helm of London’s foreign policy just two days before the Queen’s death, her potentially assertive foreign policy could look to bolster Britain’s influence.
However, whether this can compensate for the Queen’s passing is certainly up for question. London will still hope to use its prominent cultural, economic and diplomatic links to maintain its clout in the world.
Few can remember what life was like prior to Queen Elizabeth II’s reign, so it would be too soon to make bold predictions about what her passing could mean for Britain’s future. While the British monarchy may continue to exist into the future, it would certainly need new reforms as Britain looks to find its feet in the 21st century and in a post-Queen Elizabeth II world.
Some have suggested the British monarchy may lose relevancy and appeal following the Queen’s passing. Yet should King Charles III continue to make such changes to the monarchy, including modernizing it and adapting it to modern-day Britain, it may be able to maintain its soft power, albeit likely to a lesser extent.
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