What Queen Elizabeth’s Death Means For The UK And Beyond
Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-serving monarch, died Sept. 8 at the age of 96. Ahead of her funeral and the coronation of her son, King Charles III, Texas A&M Today spoke with Kevin McGlone, a history professor in the College of Arts and Sciences whose areas of specialty include early 20th century Irish and British history.
How significant is the queen’s passing for the United Kingdom? How, if at all, will this impact the country and its international relations?
The queen’s death comes at a turbulent time in British politics, with a recent scandal-induced change of prime minister and soaring energy, food and fuel costs. A 2021 poll taken across England, Scotland and Wales showed a 70% approval rating for Queen Elizabeth, but only 50% of respondents thought favorably of her son and heir Charles, now King Charles III. How her death and the accession of Charles to the throne changes public perceptions about the monarchy remains to be seen. Beyond the United Kingdom, 14 countries (previously British colonies) still consider the British monarch to be their head of state, and we could witness across some of these countries, particularly in the Caribbean, a political intensification to remove the monarch as their sovereign.
Liz Truss was recently installed as Britain’s new prime minister. What could the queen’s death mean for Truss as she takes office and forms her agenda?
Just a few days before her death, Queen Elizabeth II swore Liz Truss in as the fifteenth prime minister of her long reign. To get a sense of the length of her span as monarch, Winston Churchill was the British prime minister when she became monarch in 1952.
As a prime minister, Liz Truss leads the nation’s government and the buck stops with her when it comes to policy decisions. Truss has taken charge of a country reeling from a COVID pandemic-related and Brexit-induced economic downturn, with many fearing a deep recession.
Elizabeth, through her annual televised Christmas addresses and Queen’s Speech to parliament, among her many other public engagements, always served as a voice of optimism and comfort through good times and bad.
Liz Truss, who has taken office after a series of scandals involving her predecessor Boris Johnson, needs to quickly respond to the many challenges facing the nation such as skyrocketing inflation and soaring food and fuel costs. Unfortunately for her, King Charles III may not be politically impartial like his mother was. In recent years he has made numerous speeches demanding action on climate change, and recently he slated the actions of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson over his immigration policy. Should the potentially outspoken new king be a thorn in the side of Truss, as she sets out her government’s agenda, remains to be seen.
What did Elizabeth II represent as a symbol for the country, especially for the many Brits who don’t remember life before the queen?
From coinage to postage stamps, from letter boxes to flags, and of course the national anthem, Queen Elizabeth’s presence was ubiquitous across British society. The royal family is a source of fascination both within and outside the United Kingdom, and the queen’s death has felt almost familial to many mourners.
The recent highly-rated Netflix series “The Crown,” a blend of history and fiction, allowed viewers to intimately connect with their monarch from the comfort of their own homes, and from their TV sets, the British public got to bear witness to the many burdens she and her nation faced and withstood over the past 70 years.
What should we be watching for in terms of the future of the monarchy? What challenges will Charles face going forward?
King Charles III is 73 years old and is the oldest person ever to become a British monarch. It will be interesting to see how he will be viewed by the British people, the vast majority of whom have never known life without the queen as their sovereign. What is clear is that Charles lacks the appeal of his mother. He is faced with the huge task of becoming that rock his mother undoubtedly was as Britain grapples with political and economic uncertainty.
A recent poll in Great Britain suggests that three-fifths of its people are in favor of the monarchy as opposed to having an elected head of state or republic. Across the Commonwealth, it’s a different story. In Australia, Queen Elizabeth was extremely popular with the vast majority of the people, but with her now gone we may see a rekindling of the debate there between republicans and monarchists, and possibly another referendum, like the one that country had in 1999. We may see similar political drama in New Zealand, Canada and across the Caribbean.
King Charles III has had a checkered past in the public eye. The intense British media’s scrutiny that followed his 1994 admission of an extra-marital affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (now his wife and Queen Consort) along with his acrimonious 1996 divorce from the much-adored Princess Diana tarnished his image and that of the royal family. The recent sex abuse scandal involving his brother Prince Andrew has further discredited the House of Windsor. It will be interesting to see how the British people respond to their new monarch in the years ahead.