Pity Elizabeth, the Brexit Queen
By Robin Wright
By Robin Wright
In October of 1940, when she was still in curls and called Lilibet within the family, Princess Elizabeth made her first national radio broadcast. It was designed to calm the fears of Britain’s children, as London was being pounded by German bombers for fifty-seven consecutive nights. She was fourteen. “We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well,” she said, on the BBC’s “Children’s Hour.” Seventy-five years later, amid the increasingly chaotic aftermath of the Brexit vote, Queen Elizabeth II is trying to do it again.
“Retaining the ability to stay calm and collected can at times be hard,” she conceded, at the opening of Scotland’s Parliament, on Saturday. “One hallmark of leadership in such a fast-moving world is allowing sufficient room for quiet thinking and contemplation, which can enable deeper, cooler consideration of how challenges and opportunities can best be addressed.”
For Elizabeth, the Brexit vote marks an almost Shakespearean turn. In the nineteen-twenties, when she was born, the British Empire was the largest in history. It covered almost a quarter of the earth’s land mass; it held sway over more than four hundred and fifty million people, about a fifth of the world’s population. It was “the empire on which the sun never set.” In the past year, her reign, now the longest in British history, has twice been fêted with imperial pomp and horsey parades—last fall, for setting the longevity record, and, this spring, as she reached the age of ninety. Even Washington celebrated. At the British Embassy, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer last month led the toasts at a lawn party honoring the Queen’s birthday. Big names from the White House and Congress also attended.
But Elizabeth’s lifetime has also seen the dismantling of her kingdom’s vast empire in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. Most of its former colonies, territories, and protectorates now govern themselves. The Brexit vote may now mean the demise of Great Britain, too.