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Security Brief: HISTORICAL Week of May 4, 2021

Week of May 4, 2021


Mary Sue Bickel, Natasha Polston, Darren Nichols; Historical Analysis


British Monarchy[1]


Date: Sunday, May 9, 2021

Location: United Kingdom

Parties involved: Great Britain and Northern Ireland, British Monarchy, British security services

The event: Sunday, May 9, 2021 marks the one month anniversary of the death of Prince Philip. His death brings to the forefront the vulnerability of the monarchy, the global threat this causes, and what will happen with Queen Elizabeth II’s passing. In the month since Prince Philip died, there have been a number of moments that displayed the vulnerability of the British monarchy, including a man being arrested for carrying an ax near Buckingham Palace,[2] and a couple scaling the walls of Windsor Castle, where Queen Elizabeth was residing.[3]


The implications:

  • The one-month anniversary of Prince Philip’s death raises the various issues that the United Kingdom (UK) will come to and is currently dealing with. His death displays the vulnerability of the monarchy by showing the fragility of the lives of Britain’s monarchs, and what will happen with the succession. With Queen Elizabeth II maintaining the title of the longest reigning monarch in history, a sense of security comes with one monarch governing for this long, providing stability in the monarch’s decisions and country relations. Queen Elizabeth’s death would collapse this security buffer, resulting in uncertainty due to the lack of precedent set forth by the new ruler as there is no standing on the decisions the new monarch will make. With the Western world focusing on the monarchy through the understanding outside of a monarchical direct rule and through the circumstances of Harry and Meghan Markle, the monarchy seems irrelevant and demeaning, while many in Britain are still holding onto their historic and traditional governing system.

  • The event of Queen Elizabeth II’s death is a hotly discussed topic in the United Kingdom, with fierce debate over what would happen to the monarchy after. A YouGov survey taken in April 2021 showed Britain to still think favorably on the monarchy as 63% of those surveyed believed the UK should continue to have a monarchy in the future.[4] This same survey showed that the majority (64%) of participants feel that Queen Elizabeth should remain as monarch for as long as she lives, displaying the clear popularity that she holds within the UK.[5] There is no question that Queen Elizabeth’s popularity is high - standing at 85% amongst participants - the issue for the monarchy stems from succession. Popularity for other royals is much lower than for Queen Elizabeth, and there is a polarized response on who should succeed her: 37% for Prince Charles and 34% for Prince William.[6] This polarization has the potential to destabilize the United Kingdom further, especially when considering the broader political context of Brexit, Scottish separatism, and an increasingly politicized society.

  • No matter who succeeds Queen Elizabeth, the question remains if any future monarch will have the same steadying hand that she has provided for nearly 70 years. Her long-reign and stable influence has contributed to her overall popularity as a monarch; it is hard to say if Prince Charles or Prince William would assert the same authority if placed in a similar position. The constitutional crisis in 2019 following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s request to dissolve parliament due to the Brexit vote not passing is a very good example of this problem.[7] At the time, the British public - mostly those who supported the Remain campaign - were outraged by Queen Elizabeth’s decision to grant Johnson’s request. Many believed this was the beginning of the end for the British monarchy, citing this as a constitutional crisis, claiming that Queen Elizabeth should not have had the power to make this decision as an unelected official.[8] However, within weeks of this problem, her popularity stabilized and grew once more. It is unclear if Prince William or Prince Charles would be able to survive such a problem as monarch in the same manner that Queen Elizabeth has done.

  • On Thursday, May 6th, 2021 Scotland voted in parliamentary elections, with the Scottish National Party (SNP) running on a second Scottish independence referendum platform. The SNP won 64 out of 129 seats in the Scottish parliament, one seat shy of a majority.[9] The SNP will indeed declare a mandate in the election even though they missed the majority. The SNP will push for a second independence vote to take place sometime in 2022. Brexit will be the main issue for Scotland in that vote and the state of the monarch will be a wildcard in such a vote. A recent Sky News poll found that Scotland is evenly split on whether or not to retain the royals, with 39% saying they would keep the royals and 39% wanting a republic, 22% were undecided on the matter.[10] It is doubtful that Prince Charles becoming King would affect how Scotland votes, considering Brexit is the primary factor.

  • Brexit is the primary factor in unrest in Northern Ireland, but they may be more affected by a change in the monarchy to a King Charles. Queen Elizabeth has had a stabilizing effect on the United Kingdom, and her death may affect the unionists in Northern Ireland. It is nearly impossible to predict how Prince Charles would reign in Northern Ireland and Scotland, so a change in the monarch may have little to no effect.

  • Brexit is at the forefront of the current issue with relations with the European Union, and Scottish independence would further complicate an already rocky Brexit transition. There is too much uncertainty in Charles’ or Williams' reign, which could lead to the British Prime Minister having a much more significant influence on the European Union, Scotland, and Northern Ireland than the royal family. It is expected that more change would come from William's reign, compared to Charles’, creating more controversy and restricting the sense of security that comes from a long reigning ruler that has held the country's respect and trust for numerous decades. Due to this, post-Brexit changes and deals may be problematic and dependent on the ruler at that time. This would have an impact not only in the United Kingdom, but also across the European Union.

  • The policies and governing monarchy has implications that span the globe. A new ruler would mean new changes, circumstances, and relations. This change would allow for major states to reassert their power and influence. The United States; relations with the United Kingdom may be jeopardized by this possible assertion of power. This power struggle would be dependent on the depth of trust and security in the new ruler of the United Kingdom and who the President of the United States would be. It is also dependent on the power and influence of both states at the time of the power struggle. The United States would have to be willing to jeopardize its relations with the European Union and other states in alliance with the United Kingdom, while recognizing the likely international pressure and repercussions that would likely come. When a new ruler is crowned, the United States may use these circumstances to take advantage and increase their power and status, or it may stay put with their place and maintain current relations with the new monarch.

[1] “British Monarchy” by Mary Sue Bickel

[2] Man arrested carrying axe near Buckingham Palace, The Guardian, April 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/apr/13/man-arrested-carrying-axe-near-buckingham-palace; Queen in

[3] Queen in security scare after couple scale fence at Windsor, Evening Standard, May 2021, https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/queen-security-scare-couple-fence-windsor-castle-prince-philip-funeral-b932848.html

[4] YouGov Survey Report, YouGov, April 2021, https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/op5ota7eih/The%20Times%20Royal%20Favourability.pdf

[5] YouGov Survey Report, YouGov, April 2021, https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/op5ota7eih/The%20Times%20Royal%20Favourability.pdf

[6] YouGov Survey Report, YouGov, April 2021, https://docs.cdn.yougov.com/op5ota7eih/The%20Times%20Royal%20Favourability.pdf

[7] The British monarchy has a succession problem, Politico, April 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/british-monarchy-succession-problem-prince-charles/

[8] https://edition.cnn.com/2019/08/07/uk/the-uk-cant-have-a-constitutional-crisis-intl-gbr/index.html

[9] Scotland's election results are in, and it could be a nightmare come true for Boris Johnson, ABC News, May 2021, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-09/boris-johnsons-scottish-nightmare-could-be-coming-true/100124606

[10] Scots split on whether monarchy should remain if country votes for independence, Daily Record, March 2021, https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/scots-split-whether-monarchy-should-23752436

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