Queen Elizabeth II death: about protests and the future of the British monarchy in the world

Published 2022-09-20 06:15:42
Queen Elizabeth II catafalque at Westminster Hall - Credit: The Royal Family (@theroyalfamily) on Instagram

After a reign of 70 years, Queen Elizabeth II passed away on Thursday 8 September 2022 at the age of 96. Beside the understandable mourning, there are questions that might come forward regarding the future of the British monarchy in the world, as well as alarm raised by the way the British authorities have dealt with the few protesters.

Criticism on the press coverage

Forget the energy crisis, the war in Ukraine, climate change, the international events... there is only one thing that is worth covering: the Queen's death. 90% of the news coverage has been dedicated to the monarchy since Thursday 8th lunch time on the BBC, and it is expected to continue at least until the end of the funeral ceremony. In the past, the BBC has received complaints about its extensive coverage of Royal events.

According to The Independent, last April, they received more than 100,000 complaints over their coverage of the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, making it the most complained about piece of programming in the organisation’s history. Many people took issue with the extent of coverage the organisation gave to the death, cancelling all their normal programmes. However, on the other hand, BBC anchor’s Peter Sissons was harshly criticised by the public for wearing a brown tie (and not a black one!) when he announced the death of the Queen Mother in 2002.

The British daily The Guardian, often seen as "not-so-supportive" of the British monarchy, although keeping a huge coverage of the Queen's funeral, has also published several articles showing alternative views. Thus, Clive Lewis, the Norwich South MP and former shadow cabinet minister, said to the newspaper that his initial response to the idea of people queueing for many hours to file past the Queen’s coffin was “one of bemusement followed by a touch of despair”. The “fundamental truth” about the monarchy, he argued, is its role as a national distraction. He also added:

"It may provide a symbolic way for us to recognise other people’s sacrifice and commitment to society – but the monarchy itself risks nothing and does not suffer, save for having the lives of the royal family become the stuff of celebrity gossip. Through it all, it remains the backbone of a power structure that traces its roots back to feudalism."

On another article, Euan Ritchie (professor in wildlife ecology and conservation in Australia) wonders why did the Queen’s death receive saturation media coverage while the future of the Earth goes largely ignored. He notes that just one day after the Queen died, a new study warned about the dangers of exceeding 1.5C of global warming and even the risk of human extinction, but it was mostly ignored.

Graham Smith, spokesperson for Republic, which is campaigning to replace the monarchy with an elected head of state, said:

"There is an appetite for a lot of [coverage of the Queen’s death], but there will be a point where people feel it’s going too far or going on for too long. There’s going be a lot of people switching over to Netflix and other streaming channels".

Protesters being arrested and censored

A small number of media gave some echo to protesters who have been actually arrested for only holding a sign or making a stand. A woman in Edinburgh was arrested and handcuffed last weekend for holding a sign that said: “Fuck imperialism, abolish monarchy”. A Police spokesperson said she was causing a breach of the peace. In Oxford, the same happened to Symon Hill who only called out: “Who elected him?”after the proclamation for King Charles III was being read in the city.

Simon said he was told by police officers they were acting under the Police, Crime, Sentencing & Courts Act 2022 (the very controversial act passed earlier this year by the UK government, which allows police to arrest protesters for anything they might consider as a “public nuisance” and causing "harassement, alarm or distress"). However, the Police later said they had been acting on a much older piece of legislation: the English Public Order Act 1986 section 5 which condemns "breach of the peace" (or its equivalent in Scotland, called the Criminal Justice and licensing Act 2010 section 38).

A lady who held "Abolish Monarchy" sign outside King’s proclamation in Edinburgh was also charged. Outside parliament on Monday morning, a woman holding a placard saying "Not My King" has been led away by the Police (although not arrested in that occasion).

In The Guardian again, Zoe Williams explained that being a republican in Britain used to be perfectly respectable, but over the years, the conversation has been steadily closed down so that you can no longer voice anything but adoration. Mark Townsend said: "As someone who believes the monarchy is an outdated concept that compromises our democratic right and signifies colonialism, I am suddenly being turned into the bad guy for deciding not to celebrate that aspect of the Queen’s life.".

The webmedia The Conversation explains:

"It’s important to note that neither the UK nor Australia protects the monarchy against criticism. This is significant because in some countries (such as Thailand), it’s a criminal offence to insult the monarch. These are called “lèse-majesté” laws – a French term meaning “to do wrong to majesty”. The police in the UK and Australia cannot therefore use public order offences (such breach of the peace) to unlawfully limit public criticism of the monarchy". However that is exactly what the police has been doing in a number of occasions.

And LBC presenter Andrew Marr expressed alarm in the strongest terms.

What will happen with the role of the British monarchy overseas

The death of Queen Elizabeth II is the climax of a period of uncertainty for Britain. They have just changed Prime Minister a few days ago, the country is still facing the dire consequences of the Brexit decision, another economic crisis is threatening lead by the world instability, the soaring energy bills and the cost of living have profound impact on people and recession seems around the corner.

But the death of the Queen might foremost mark the end of an era for the British monarchy links in the world. Elizabeth II served her country during the second world war, presided over the turmoil of the post-colonial and post-imperial era, saw the country joining the European Community in 1973 and then divorcing form the European Union 4 decades later.

The British Monarchy has a lot of influence around the world, with 56 sovereign states (including the United Kingdom) forming the Commonwealth, a "diplomatic" organisation she is head of. In 2018 those countries decided unanimously that Charles, then Prince of Whales, would become the next head of the Commonwealth after the Queen's death (in theory, anyone in the organisation can be at the head of the organisation, it does not need to be the British monarch).

Elizabeth II was not only the United Kingdom queen at the head of the Commonwealth. She was also the head of state in 14 other country known as the commonwealth realm (including Australia, Canada, Jamaica and New Zealand). However, while it was widely accepted that the Queen was reigning on those country, some of them might want to seize the opportunity of a change on the throne to break the link to the British crown.

Even under the Queen's reign, the use of a monarch has been under some scrutiny in many countries. The Economist reminds us that at the start of her long reign Elizabeth II served as head of state of 32 countries; but at her death she remained so for just 15, including the United Kingdom.

In November 2021, Barbados has become a republic, replacing the Queen and Governor-General (which is the representative of the Monarch in the country) with a president with the same powers and functions as the monarch. It became effectively the 17th country to remove the Queen as the head of state. Mauritius was the previous one to make such move in 1992 and Belize said they might follow Barbados' decision.

At least six countries in the Caribbean have said they intend to remove the British monarch as their sovereign. Those countries are Belize, the Bahamas, Jamaica, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, and St. Kitts and Nevis, all of them former British colonies which gained independence during the second half of the 20th century.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister, Gaston Browne, said last week he intended to hold a republic referendum “within the next three years”. He said to ITV:

"It does not represent any form of disrespect to the monarch. This is not an act of hostility, or any difference between Antigua and Barbuda and the monarchy. It is a final step to complete the circle of independence to become a truly sovereign nation."

Earlier this year, Jamaica also confirmed they have plans to remove the Queen and 56% of Jamaicans support the idea.

Australia as no plan yet, but this has been a subject for debates for quite some time now. In 1999 they held a referendum and decided not to get rid of the Queen as their head of state but the result was very close. However, following the Queen’s death, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a radio interview that it was not the time to talk about becoming a republic and will not pursue a referendum during his first term in office.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said last Monday that she was stopping the move to become a republic... at least for now.

Although there seems to be no plan in Canada (and the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the idea of even discussing the topic, despite 58 % of Canadians in favour of a referendum according to a recent poll), and while leaders in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu have expressed their support for the monarchy in recent days, it does not mean that we will not see some changes sooner rather than later, starting probably in the Caribbean.

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Author: Cyrilexpat
French & British national
CEO Habilis Digital Ltd

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