After a week of political chaos following the UK’s shock referendum decision to leave the European Union, it fell to the Queen to provide a symbol of continuity, calm and national decorum.
Away from the political Punch and Judy show of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the Queen presented a dignified figure as she and her husband Prince Philip attended a memorial at Westminster Abbey on Thursday night marking the one hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of one of the bloodiest and most futile battles of World War I, the Battle of the Somme.
60,000 allied troops died in a few days at the Somme, and if that doesn’t provide a sense of perspective when it comes to Europe’s present difficulties, then nothing will.
No tear escaped her eye on this occasion, but, with her head bowed and brow furrowed, the Queen looked somber and moved as she paid tribute to the war dead.
Brexit is not a trifling event, but the Queen does not believe that panic and fuss have ever helped a political crisis. And the Queen is one of those who believe that in the long run, British independence from Europe is simply the right way to go.
As the Daily Beast revealed, the Queen had been a proponent of Brexit in private conversations, asking her dinner guests in the run up to the vote to give her ‘three good reasons’ why Britain should have remained part of Europe.
Brexit is a far from unwelcome political development in the UK as far as the Queen is concerned; earlier this week she told Northern Ireland’s First Minister Martin McGuinness that she was ‘still alive’ although there had been ‘a lot going on.’
She implied she was talking about her 90th birthday celebrations but she was undoubtedly seeking to also convey a message that post-Brexit, we should all keep calm and carry on.
Although there was a brief panic that Scotland might seek to break away from the United Kingdom as the result of the vote, this possibility has existed more strongly in the mind of Nicola Sturgeon, the nationalist first minister of Scotland, and in media scare stories, than it has in reality.
The Queen is being briefed that Scotland has no grounds to seek a new referendum on independence and senior European politicians are also telling the Scots to get over themselves: they voted to stay in the UK two years ago, and the referendum result changes not a thing.
Donald Tusk, the president of the powerful European Council comprising the heads of member states, has refused an invitation for talks with Sturgeon. Tusk is paranoid about fueling separatist movements across the continent by being seen to give credence to Scottish nationalist maneuvering.
Among the more Remain-friendly younger royals, William was accused of intervening in the debate when he told recipients of the inaugural Diplomatic Academy awards: “In an increasingly turbulent world, our ability to unite in common action with other nations is essential. It is the bedrock of our security and prosperity and is central to your work.”
The Daily Beast understands that the young royals—who, like the Queen, attended the Somme memorial--are as dismayed as most other young, engaged and internationally-minded British people at the result of the EU vote (not least because William and Kate’s nanny is Spanish).
The Queen and her husband, few will be surprised to hear, are pleased at the assertion of national sovereignty.
The Queen has never appreciated EU involvement in the domestic life of the nation and is hopeful that the diminishment of the EU will put new wind in the sails of the Commonwealth, the loose grouping of former colonial nations of which the Queen is head.
Some Australian politicians are already calling for the UK to restart “an ambitious plan for Commonwealth free movement of people, starting with Australia, the UK, Canada and New Zealand,” which had previously been blocked by the EU.
With the promise of a resurgent commonwealth, who can blame the Queen for spying opportunity in Britain’s Brexit vote?