The Queen's death could lead to the severance of many links with the Commonwealth | Death of Queen Elizabeth II

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The Queen's death could lead to the severance of many ties with the Commonwealth | Death of Queen Elizabeth II

Independence movements are on the march almost everywhere, except in Canada where constitutional inertia reigns.

Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's longest reigning monarch and a rock of stability for most of turbulent century, died on September 8, 2022, after 70 years on the throne. She was 96.

At its height, the British Empire spanned the four corners of the globe and had a quarter of the world's population as subjects. Over time, however, the realms of the monarchy have inexorably shrunk.

The first crack in the facade appeared 100 years ago, when Britain ratified a peace treaty to end the guerrilla warfare that had returned the dominance of the Crown inapplicable in much of Ireland.

Over the next quarter century, this fissure spread to other colonies – first in the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, then in Africa and the Caribbean – weakening the monarchical edifice until the shocks of World War II caused the Empire to collapse.

Military defeats, from Burma to Hong Kong, eventually weakened British prestige, giving way to the arrival of the United States on the international scene. The undisputed new grand master of the post-war world, moreover, saw the British and French empires as weak in the new ideological struggle with the Soviet Union.

Queen Elizabeth II made a surprisingly smooth transition to the Commonwealth, a voluntary organization that remained accessible even to former colonies, saving the British Empire from experiencing the same violent disintegration experienced by the French and Portuguese.

Among the nations that have abandoned the monarchy is the jewel in the crown: India. The country gained independence in 1947 and declared itself a republic two years later. Bangladesh and Pakistan have followed suit.

Schoolchildren wave flags during celebrations marking the 75th Independence Day of India. (archives)

As the wave of independence swept through the Empire, the Queen remained Head of State for only around a quarter of her former British colonies such as Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom. New Zealand, the former Caribbean colonies (from the Bahamas to Belize) and a handful of Pacific nations (such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands).

Note that in recent years, the Commonwealth has expanded to accept new members who have never been part of the British Empire. This is the case of Rwanda, a former Belgian colony. Moreover, this African country hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit this year.

Another former Belgian colony, Burundi, has applied to become a member. Suspended countries, such as Fiji, Gambia and the Maldives, were readmitted, and others that had left the organization (Pakistan) or been expelled (South Africa) did so. since joined. As for Zimbabwe, it left the Commonwealth in 2003 and asked to return in 2018.

Flowers have been dropped outside the British Embassy in Dublin following the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

Only Britain's oldest colony stubbornly refused to be part of the Commonwealth. For some members of the Irish Republican Army, acceptance of anything less than full independence in 1922 had been too bitter a pill to swallow.

The new Irish Free State was the scene of a bitter civil war between its former liberators, who debated whether to accept the only peace deal on offer or hope for more. The supporters of the Treaty prevailed, and for 27 years after the War of Independence the Irish Free State was a dominion like Canada.

But the painful memories of oppression, starvation and exile, which culminated in forced partition, left the Irish determined to have no further dealings with their former colonial master. In 1949, Ireland took advantage of Britain's weakening after the war to declare itself a full republic and leave the Commonwealth for good.

The recent Caribbean tour of William and Catherine, then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, showed how vivid memories of colonialism still are in this part of the world.

The couple were first forced to cancel a visit to Belize, where the local Mayan population had objected to their presence. Then, in Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the Duke and Duchess that his island country would move on to achieve its true ambitions as an independent, developed and prosperous country.

The Jamaican government is no longer hiding its intentions. He plans to make the country a republic soon, in time for the next general elections scheduled for 2025.

Prince William and Catherine, then Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, attend the Caribbean Military Academy Parade in Kingston, in Jamaica. (archives)

Recall that Jamaica said last year that it would formally request the British government to pay reparations for overseeing the forced transport of an estimated 600,000 enslaved Africans to plantations. sugar and bananas from the island.

Even politically independent, most British Caribbean countries continued to accept the Queen as head of state. Only Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica chose the Republican option. However, it seems that the region is beginning to experience a second wave of independence aspirations.

The Prime Minister of Barbados inaugurated during an official ceremony the removal of her country from the British crown. After the death of Elizabeth II, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, meanwhile announced his intention to hold a referendum on the monarchy.

“This is not an act of hostility or any disagreement between Antigua and Barbuda and the monarchy. But this is the final step to complete this circle of independence, to ensure that we are truly a sovereign nation. »

— Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda

Singer Rihanna during an interview with the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley. (archives)

Barbados has chosen an easy path to a republic by simply appointing its former Governor General as the new President. But larger nations, especially those with federal systems, face more complex issues.

For example, Australia's attempt to abandon the monarchy in the 1990s failed because abandoning one system requires replacing it with another. With the Queen's passing, perhaps a new window is opening for Republicans in Australia, who have responded to her passing with a measured statement.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese addresses the nation the day after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, September 9, 2022. (archive)

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is a staunch Republican. Upon taking office last May, he appointed Matt Thistlethwaite to the new post of deputy minister for the republic. This is responsible for planning the transition out of the monarchy.

Mr Albanese is one of many Australian Labor politicians who has never forgotten the role of the British Crown in the 1975 constitutional crisis, which saw unelected Governor-General John Kerr impeach the first Labor minister-elect, Gough Whitlam.

Letters exchanged between Buckingham Palace and his Australian viceroy were released in 2020 after a long legal battle. They revealed that Prince Charles (now Charles III) had discussed with Mr. Kerr the dismissal of Mr. Whitlam months before it happened.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was quick to dismiss any speculation that her government was considering an exit from the fold of the monarchy.

I never felt the urgency of it, she said. There are so many challenges we face. This is a broad and important debate. I don't think this is a debate that could or should happen soon.

I think that's where New Zealand will eventually be headed. I think it's likely to happen in my lifetime, she added.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh wave to the crowd during their visit to Wellington, New Zealand. (archives)

New Zealand has come a long way since the Queen's first visit in 1952, when Auckland City Council evicted Maori from Okahu Bay and burned down their homes, fearing that ;they are a terrible horror that could spoil the sovereign's view of the bay.

Today, the Maori party seems to hold the balance of power. Elections must be held no later than January 2024. Its leader, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer, has made it clear that she is not a monarchist.

Of all of the Commonwealth countries, the one perhaps least likely to abandon the British monarchy is Canada, simply because its federal Constitution makes the process virtually impossible.

A tribute to Queen Elizabeth II is projected on the big screen at the National Arts Center in Ottawa.

Constitutional expert Philippe Lagassé told CBC that; such a change would require the unanimous consent of all provinces and the federal Parliament, and I suspect Indigenous peoples would also want to have a say, as they have a direct relationship with the Crown.

Mr. Lagassé explains that those who are in favor of a Canadian republic should go and plead their cause directly in the United Kingdom since all that is needed there is an act of Parliament. And if that were to happen, we here in Canada would be compelled to do something.

Such a scenario is unlikely, but not impossible, added the constitutional expert.< /p>

While the Prince and Princess of Wales' tour of the Caribbean was met with protests and even rebuffs, Princess Anne led a much more successful tour of Papua New Guinea.

The country does not bear the same painful history of slavery as the Caribbean and the queen figure known there as Missis Kwin has remained very popular there. While other countries consider withdrawing from the Commonwealth, Papua New Guinea is looking in the opposite direction by embracing what we have and making it bigger and better than it is. was before, Minister Justin Tkatchenko said.

The fact remains that within five years, Papua New Guinea could be the only predominantly non-white nation of over a million people to still recognize a British monarch as ruler. ;State. More bad news for the British monarchy is likely to surface in the not-too-distant future. Scotland may well see another referendum on independence.

A man and his dog wait to see the motorcade carrying the coffin of the late Queen Elizabeth II in Edinburgh, England Scotland.

In an apparent effort to make the split seem less drastic, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has proposed keeping the Queen as head of state. But few believe that the Scottish Nationalist Party is truly committed to a monarchical government.

Either way, the dissolution of the United Kingdom would be a blow for the royal family who created it in 1707, and would open the door to new uncertainties. Moreover, the demographic evolution in Northern Ireland seems likely to reopen a much more dangerous debate, in which the maintenance of the role of the Crown would be very largely at stake.

Irish Republicans have shown respect for Elizabeth II's death but, unlike the Scots, they can never accept that her family continues to play a role. The British Empire has been dying for a century. It has now become clear that the process is not yet complete.

Based on text by CBC's Evan Dyer

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