The Queen’s unusual intervention shows ours is a worried nation with a worried monarch

It is extraordinary that it has come to this. It was an unthinkable turn of events, even a few years ago, that the very unity and integrity of the kingdom should become so endangered that it should force a monarchical public warning

Monday 24 December 2018 19:15
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The Queen's Christmas speech 2018

A dreadful muddle, possibly caused by misunderstandings; confusion on the government’s part; vast disruption; Britain an object of international ridicule, if not pity... the Gatwick crisis seems a fitting end to a year in which Brexit has, to put it mildly, failed to deliver the “exciting opportunities” so brightly claimed a few months ago.

It is a sign of how much damage to the national fabric Brexit has inflicted that the Queen has made a rare intervention. A timely preview of her Christmas address will maximise the publicity she will receive in her thinly veiled appeal for national calm. When she calls for people to conduct their political arguments with respect she reflects the views, and fears, of her citizenry. She holds a unique place in national life, respected even by dedicated republicans. This is a worried nation with a worried monarch.

It is extraordinary that it has come to this. It was an unthinkable turn of events, even a few years ago, that the very unity and integrity of the kingdom should become so endangered that it should force a monarchical public warning. Usually the Christmas Day address is a pleasant jog through family events, Commonwealth tours and charity work, blessed with sincere wishes of goodwill. Not this year. We have been given whatever the opposite of a call to arms is. The British have been told to “calm down, dear”. We do need to take a step back, and this holiday season is an ideal opportunity to do so.

The Queen is supposed to have asked at the time of the referendum “why can’t we just leave?” This did not make her a Ukipper, even were it true. She was probing the arguments. It was a question her subjects also asked, with the same open spirit.

Now she and we know the answer. We can’t just leave because it would inflict vast damage to the prosperity, security and unity of the realm she solemnly vowed as a young woman to serve her whole life. Her latest appeal is hardly an endorsement of the government’s policy, or of any other policy for that matter. She simply sees an ugly mood abroad and wishes to defuse it as best she can.

It may well also betoken some fear in the palace about being dragged into the arguments about a further general election, and to arbitrate on the uncharted waters created by the Fixed-term Parliament Act 2011. As ever, she would prefer the politicians to sort matters out through the usual channels. She may or may not want a Labour government, but it is unfair and deeply undemocratic to push her and her advisers into a position where they might have to facilitate one – or deny one.

The deep ironies – and dangers – are all too apparent if Theresa May asks for a dissolution having lost the necessary votes of confidence, but Jeremy Corbyn says he wishes to form a minority administration with minor party support (as Ms May has).

The recent praise for the film about Queen Anne reminds us that Anne was the last British monarch to veto a bill passed by parliament – in 1707. It is, in other words, a long time since sovereignty passed from the monarch to parliament and to the House of Commons. Since the events of 2016 it has passed to the people, in reality, for good or ill and it is they, not monarch or parliament, who must settle the European issue.

The best way is through a democratic vote, a final say on the terms of Brexit now that they are known. That Queen Elizabeth II has let her people know what her advice is is wise and timely and constructive; but her people must now decide what it is that they do want.

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