The Biggest Challenge King Charles III Faces Will Be to Keep the United Kingdom United
Monday, September 19, 2022
Uriel Araujo, researcher with a focus on international and ethnic conflicts
Queen Elizabeth was very popular in Britain; her death came at a hard time. The elaborate rituals and procedures pertaining to the burial and the crowning of the new King Charles as well as the issuing of new coins, banknotes etc, will have an impact on a British economy that is already in a bad shape and anxious over the coming winter amid an energy and inflation crisis.
According to a YouGov poll earlier this year, Queen Elizabeth had a 75% approval, compared with only 42% for her son, now King Charles III. The high esteem for her notwithstanding, the Royal Family reputation and prestige, as of now, is damaged by a series of scandals. King’s brother, Prince Andrew had to partially withdraw from public life over a sexual scandal lawsuit concerning to his relationship with deceased financier Jeffrey Epstein, the head of an elite social circle which procured women and children for the wealthy. Prince Harry, in turn, stepped away from all his royal duties in 2021, when he moved to the US with his wife, Meghan Markle, amid a public family quarrel.
King Charles’ own image among the general public to this day is tainted by his somewhat messy divorce from Lady Diana Spencer in 1996. A monarch being also the secular head of the Church, there were, at the time, doubts whether Charles could become King in the future if he was divorced and remarried because the Church of England would not allow a second marriage. In 1997, Diana died in a car crash – and according to a 2013 poll, nearly four in ten British adults believed it was not an accident (although there is no evidence to the contrary).
Afterwards, Charles made public his relationship with his longtime lover, whom he married, in a civil ceremony, in 2005, and who today is Queen Consort Camilla. In 2010, the Palace had stated Princess Consort – and not Queen Consort – was the intended title for Camila if and when Charles became the Monarch.
Such marital and personal matters could all be described as private businesses, and the subject of tabloids, but this being the British Royal Family, they generate bad publicity and also have political impacts. According to Pauline Maclaran, a London University marketing professor, who specializes in the Royal Family, support for the late Queen does not necessarily transfer to the monarchy itself. A sign of its decline in popularity is the fact that Charles was booed in his very first official visit to Wales as monarch.
In fact, support for the regime has plunged from 75% in 2012 to 62% a few months ago, according to YouGov. Under Charles, this could plunge even lower. Moreover, only 45% of Scottish voters back the monarchy, according to UK-based think tank British Future, and, during Charles III’s proclamation, there were protests in Edinburgh. The problem is not just the general public: in London, Charles has a reputation for interfering in public business.
The economy’s bad shape might also decrease support for monarchy. There are today over 4.7 million British banknotes with the deceased Queen’s face on them, and all of them are to be replaced, although completing this transition can take a few years. Although a gradual changeover, in any case changing Queen to King on coins, mail stamps, and post boxes, besides banknotes, does have its costs. Some experts in fact estimate the whole thing will cost around $402 million – not to mention flags flying outside public buildings, military medals, uniforms which bear the Queen’s cypher, police helmets, UK passports, and even the royal warrant that applies to hundreds of businesses. All of this might also impact many other countries, considering the Queen’s image appears on the currency of 35 countries, due to her position as the former Head of the Commonwealth.
Of the 54 Commonwealth members, 14 have Charles as their Head of State. Some of these states, in the Caribbean particularly, are rethinking their adhesion to monarchy and local republicans may take advantage of this period to push their agendas. Barbados became a republic last year and others could follow suit: Antigua and Barbuda’s Prime Minister recently told the British broadcaster ITV that he plans a referendum on the matter very soon, and there are talks about similar moves in Jamaica, and, outside the Caribbean, to a lesser degree, even in Australia and New Zealand.
The Caribbean “republican move” also worries British political elites, who are concerned about the rising Chinese presence there. Barbados’ republican turn was even blamed on China – without any evidence – by Tom Tugendhat, then chairman of the British Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee. Beijing in fact has been lending billions of dollars to Caribbean commonwealth nations.
Back to the United Kingdom, it has been in practice already divided by the peculiar post-Brexit situation of the Northern Ireland Protocol - there is now in fact an “Irish Sea border” and a loyalist-republican conflict in Northern Ireland could make a comeback. The UK has made a unilateral decision to keep suspending Northern Ireland border checks, but the crisis remain
To sum it up, without Elizabeth’s popularity and unity appeal, King Charles III’ biggest challenge will be to keep the United Kingdom united, which is precisely his main job. In short, this transition opens the way for further legitimacy and political crises and instability in the UK, amid a general European crisis.
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