Elizabeth II, In Christmas Speech, Fails To Say ‘Brexit’
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
What is to be made of the fact that the British monarch failed in her Christmas address — the sixty-eighth of her long reign — to mention the fact that the United Kingdom of which she is the sovereign is about to end its membership in the European Union and become truly independent once again? It is, after all, far and away the most important development for Britain in the year Her Majesty is reviewing for the holiday. Is there method to her silence on this head?
The question invites reflection because seldom can Elizabeth speak so freely, as she can in her Christmas speech, to her subjects in the United Kingdom and across the Commonwealth, including men and women of good cheer around the globe. Her grandfather, George V, began the tradition in 1932, when he used the wireless to reach out to the farthest corners of the British Empire upon which, went the boast, “the sun never set.”
Now, the Queen sends season’s greetings via radio, television, and the world wide web. The Christmas broadcast is Her Majesty’s royal review of the year just past and appraisal of the year to come. In 2019 — as for much of the last three years — top of mind has been the fate of Britain’s independence from the European Union. As Elizabeth surveys the receding twelvemonth, she characteristically eschews hyperbole, merely calling its consequences “quite bumpy.”
Come the end of January — barring catastrophe — the UK will at long last leave the EU. It might seem only natural that the Queen, as Head of State, should want to address the effects of Brexit upon her people. Yet nowhere does she mention it directly, nor, for that matter, any political development — whether it be December’s General Election or the summer appointment of her fifteenth prime minister, Boris Johnson, during her 67-year reign (beginning with Sir Winston Churchill).
Not a word about Brexit. In part Her Majesty’s reticence is due to constitutional convention, in which the Crown forsakes the grubby details of politics to the government, rising above the fray and serving as an unbiased sovereign for all. Nor can one imagine that the Brexit path is one on which the Queen would be eager to tread, so stressful are relations between Leavers and Remainers. The acrimony arising from the election, the culmination of years of recriminations, suggests that few want Brexit to intrude upon festivities of Christmas and Chanukah.
We mere commoners, though, may spare a thought as we stare at the Yule log blazing on the hearth or the Chanukah candles, for what the Queen herself thinks of Brexit. Convention may prevent the monarch from expressing any political opinions, yet it’s hard not to imagine that deep in her heart, Her Majesty is a Brexiteer, too. Early in the Brexit saga, the London Sun first reported that Elizabeth told her assembled ministers, “I don’t see why we can’t just get out.”
Hardly the words of an EU sympathiser. While we may be ignorant of her true feelings, no one can deny Brexit’s divisiveness. So as many Britons celebrate the birth of the “Prince of Peace,” the Queen set out to heal a divided nation. Understatement was the modus operandi. Commemorating Neil Armstrong’s historic moon walk, the Queen observed that “it’s a reminder for us all that giant leaps often start with small steps.”
Then on to the 75th anniversary of D-Day. How comforting, she remarked, that the warring parties of World War II are now peaceful partners in projects scanning the globe. “Such reconciliation seldom happens overnight,” Elizabeth noted. “It takes patience and time to rebuild trust, and progress often comes through small steps.” If belligerents can let bygones-be-bygones, surely Britons won’t let Brexit break them apart, must be the monarch’s muted message.
Meanwhile, the “Unionist” sovereign offers a balm to soothe Scotland’s threatened secessionist referendum redux. “Small steps, taken in faith and in hope,” she assures, “can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.” With 2020 and British independence waiting in the wings, Elizabeth counsels “what positive things can be achieved when people . . . come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation.”
On this score, the Queen herself sets the example by forswearing politics. Brexit, by delivering Britain from one level of government, will fulfil its promise if it removes more layers of bureaucracy and brings less politics, more personal responsibility. Elizabeth II sets the tone for the adventure ahead: “As we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.”