Queen’s Death Leaves UK Grappling With Its Sense of National Identity

LONDON – Shortly after the long-awaited news broke – Queen Elizabeth II had passed away – Britain triggered Operation London Bridge, the meticulously choreographed funeral plan guiding the country through its implementation. memorial and mourning ceremonies culminating in her burial 10 days later.

But the plan, with its measured precision, concealed something far more muddled: a breakdown of national psyche. The Queen’s death last week, at the age of 96, was a truly traumatic event that left many in this stoic country anxious and depressed. When they face the loss of an embodiment of Britain, they are uncertain about their nation’s identity, its economic and social prosperity, or even its role. In the world.

To some, it almost seems like London Bridge is collapsing.

Such injuries were not entirely unexpected: Elizabeth reigned for 70 years, making her the only monarch most British people have ever known. Yet the anxiety is even deeper, scholars and commentators say, a reflection not only of the queen’s enduring shadow but also of the unstable country she left behind.

From Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic to the recent mass scandals that led to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation, the end of the Second Elizabeth was a time of unending turmoil for Britain.

In just two months of Mr Johnson announcing his resignation, inflation has skyrocketed, a recession has erupted and household energy bills have nearly doubled. Almost lost in the wave that spilled over the world after the queen’s death was new prime minister, Liz TrussIn three business days, launched an emergency plan to cap energy prices at a cost that could run into more than $100 billion.

Timothy Garton Ash, professor of European studies at the University of Oxford, said: “It all led to a sense of uncertainty and insecurity, which has been there because of Brexit and then Covid, and now a new prime minister, very inexperienced.” The queen, he said, was the rock, “and then the rock was removed.”

Not just rock music, but the rhythms of everyday British life: Her image is featured on pound banknotes and postage stamps, her royal monogram – ER for Elizabeth Regina – is embellished on the flags and red postal boxes around the country.

On Saturday, when it was officially announced her son, Charles, as king on Saturday, the void left by the queen was already evident. Her empty throne, known for short as ER, loomed before a council of the new monarch; his heir, Prince William; archbishop of Canterbury; and the prime minister and her six living predecessors.

For older Britons in particular, the loss was “profound and personal and almost familial”, Mr Johnson said, paying tribute to the queen at Parliament on Friday, Wednesday. days after she accepted his resignation in one of his last acts.

“Perhaps in part she has always been there, an unchanging human reference point in British life,” he said. “All surveys say the person who appears most often in our dreams. The pole star’s brilliance is so unchanging that we may have been lulled to think that in some way she could last forever.”

Mr Johnson and others said, beyond the queen’s permanence, it was her immense global stature. She was a living link to World War II, after which Winston Churchill helped map the postwar world, sitting around the Yalta conference table with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.

Mr. Johnson and Ms. Truss have returned to that role with their strong support for Ukraine. But Britain today is less a major power at the center of global decision-making than a middle power cheering from the sidelines. It is fitting that the last British person to have a state funeral – until the queen’s on September 19 at Westminster Abbey – was Churchill in 1965.

“My personal thought is that there will probably never be an occasion where another British figure will be mourned globally,” said Professor Garton Ash at Oxford. “In a way, it was the final moment of British greatness.”

For all the trappings of power, the queen exerts influence not through political or military mechanisms but through the observance of duty to the country. Her wartime service, and her decent governance, stood in stark contrast to Britain’s often bad politics, not to mention the foreign powers she had to sometimes entertain.

Some say she was a pioneer in the exercise of what later came to be known as “soft power”.

The Queen said in 1957. “I cannot lead you into battle,” “I do not give you laws or administer justice, but I can do something else. I can offer you my heart and devotion to these old islands, and to all the peoples of our brother nations. “

In the parks and squares around Buckingham Palace, where crowds gathered on Saturday, people spoke of her loss politically and personally. Kate Nattrass, 59, a medical recruiter from Christchurch, New Zealand, a member of the British Commonwealth, said: “She means reliability and stability.

But the queen did so at the cost of enormous personal sacrifice. “In many ways, she is a woman who has been robbed of her ability to be herself,” Ms. Nattrass said. “She probably missed out on a lot of her own family because of that.”

Callum Taylor, 27, an actor from the town of Preston, northwest England, came to London to leave yellow roses in front of the palace gates. He said he had heard yellow was one of Elizabeth’s favorite colors. Mr Taylor admitted he was unsure of his credentials, but added, “I think we all felt we knew her.”

While the queen has long been revered – the large crowds at the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June attest to her enduring popularity – her role is believed to be increasingly important. more after Brexit.

With Britain no longer part of the European Union, the country’s pro-Brexit government has returned to symbols of its imperial past, ordering the Union Jack to fly regularly from public buildings. community and promoted projects such as a new royal yacht (neither King Charles III nor Mrs. Truss showed any particular interest).

Respect for the queen is put before the fissures that have widened in the UK since Brexit. Scotland and Northern Ireland both now have significant populations in favor of secession from the kingdom, and it is unclear whether King Charles would give them a more compelling reason to stay.

In Scotland, where the queen died at her beloved Balmoral Castle, a referendum on independence was defeated in 2014 by a margin of 55% to 44%. The Scottish National Party, which controls the country’s Parliament, is determined to hold another vote.

Many in Ireland still recall the queen’s landmark visit in 2011, when she captivated the public and spoke candidly about Britain’s strained relationship with its neighbour. “With the benefit of historical hindsight,” she says, “we can all see things that we wish would have been done differently, or not at all.”

In Northern Ireland, however, the Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein, become the biggest party after the election in May. Sinn Fein is also within striking distance of being the largest party in the Republic of Ireland, a milestone that could accelerate Irish reunification.

The management of the resilient unionist parties of the North, which favored staying in the kingdom, had become a headache for the British government. Ms Truss, following Mr Johnson’s lead, is threatening to scrap the post-Brexit trade deals in Northern Ireland, part of the withdrawal agreement from the European Union.

Centrifugal forces were even greater in the far-flung British dominions, such as Jamaica, the Bahamas and St. Lucia, which is predominantly black, is demanding to take into account the racist legacy of British colonialism. Barbados deposed the queen as head of state in 2021, and Jamaica could soon follow.

During a troubling trip to the Caribbean last March, Prince William and his wife, Catherine, were faced with calls for reparation for slavery and demands that they confess recognized that Britain’s economy was “built on the foundations of our ancestors”.

Vernon Bogdanor, a constitutional monarchy authority at King’s College London, said Charles was different from other royals in that he tried to appeal to those on the margins of society. He cited Charles’ visit to Tottenham, in north London, after it erupted in riots in 2011 following a police shooting.

For that reason, among others, Professor Bogdanor says the new king may surprise skeptics about his ability to replace his mother. Still, he acknowledged a surprisingly deep sense of loss over the queen’s death.

“I feel more affected than I thought,” he said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if someone who lived to be 96 years old died. The only explanation I can think of is how instinctively people feel she cares for the country. “

Saskia Solomon contribution report.

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