Debates over British imperialism have sparked after Queen Elizabeth II’s death

Debates over British imperialism have sparked after Queen Elizabeth II’s death
FILE PHOTO: A protester holds up a sign amidst the crowd during the Accession Proclamation Ceremony for Britain’s King Charles, following the death of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, at Mercat Cross in Edinburgh, Scotland, Britain September 11, 2022. Wattie Cheung/Pool via REUTERS

Having invaded around 90% of countries on the planet (only 22 nations went untouched, according to historian Stuart Laycock), the UK has a long history of global imperialism. These days, though, the UK has backed off from hard-line colonialism for the most part. But, the British monarch is still the head of state for 14 former British colonies, now sovereign countries and part of the Commonwealth Realms (including Canada, Australia, Jamaica, Belize and more). The monarch is also the ceremonial head of the larger Commonwealth, a voluntary association with roots that go back to the British empire, which currently includes 56 member states.

Now, though, triggered by Queen Elizabeth II’s death last week, there’s been rising criticism regarding British imperialism and the monarchy’s modern role. In fact, some Commonwealth nations are looking to rethink their relationship with the Crown. King Charles III, the successor of the British throne, is considerably less popular than his mother. So now, these countries can argue more openly against having a foreign monarchy as head of state without insulting a beloved figure like the former queen. Already, Antigua and Barbuda has announced a referendum vote on discarding monarchal rule. Other Caribbean nations are also re-examining their British ties, like Jamaica, Belize and the Bahamas. Australia has also proposed a referendum on becoming a republic, though this move would be several years away. A recent poll in Canada found that only 34% of those surveyed would support King Charles staying head of state. Loyalist supporters in Northern Ireland are getting anxious at what the queen’s death could mean for monarchy in their country, and even Scotland is seeing pro-republican protestors cropping up with calls for abolishing the monarchy.

Key comments:

“I do think there will be change. I think people will start to really think more about it now,” explained Areti Metuamate, an Indigenous Māori from New Zealand who is an academic and an activist in republican movements.

“Condolences, of course, and credit to her unwavering commitment to duty. But as Canadian republicans, we must all be ready to present our case for a 21st-century non-monarchical alternative to succession,” Citizens for a Canadian Republic, which supports abolishing the monarchy, tweeted after the queen died last Thursday.

“The queen, in a way, allowed the whole jigsaw puzzle to hang together so long as she was there,” said Mark McKenna, a historian at the University of Sydney. “But I’m not sure it’ll continue to hang on.”

“If we look at democracies around the world, the most stable democracies are constitutional monarchies,” said Jarrod Bleijie, a lawmaker in the legislature of Australia’s Queensland state and a spokesman for the Australian Monarchist League. “Australia will support our new king.”

“The British monarchy has shown a capacity to evolve over the ages, from colonial to a post-colonial monarchy, and the queen undertook that re-creation quite well,” said Robert Aldrich, another historian at the University of Sydney.

“It’s part of our culture here … monarchy is a big, big thing. And the queen is the monarchy, as far as we’re concerned," said Bill Martin, a Northern Ireland loyalist. “She was a real stalwart for the United Kingdom. I don’t think Charles is anywhere near that. He has no interest in Northern Ireland.”