Charles III between the (Dis)United Kingdom and the Global Britain
Charles III receives the crown as the United Kingdom goes through a phase of profound transition, in which the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, appeared to many observers as a symbol of the real end of an era. The monarch, crowned on June 2, 1953, was the last and fundamental witness of a world in which London was still the capital of an empire and Europe was the great stage of history. And under his reign the British people somehow recognized themselves in a continuity that persisted in the face of great changes, real revolutions and wounds that significantly affected the life of the United Kingdom.
Today Charles finds before him a kingdom that also suffers the effects of what happened in the last years of the reign of his deceased mother. And although he is not a political leader, his role cannot and cannot be that of a simple ferryman, but that of representative of a monarchy in a period that may already be decisive for the fate of London. Several outbreaks, already spotted or tamed in the last decade, could reappear in the face of a monarchy that appears firm but at the same time still a harbinger of doubts. And both in Britain and in what is still the British “empire”, Charles III has before him several signals about the complex and systemic challenges he must try to manage from his position as king.
The hotbeds of the home front
On the domestic front, many observers believe that in the coming years, the Northern Ireland issue may reappear in a more or less short period of time. The post-Brexit agreement with the European Union has raised strong concerns on the part of the unionist front, where many fear that this could be the prelude to a form of isolation and excessive rapprochement with Dublin. The issue is rather felt by the British crown, to the point that in February a meeting between Charles III and the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has already been skipped to prevent the summit from being used as a propaganda tool on the Northern Irish protocol wanted by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
The issue of Scotland is less urgent, even if the 2016 referendum still represents a precedent not to be underestimated when it comes to the dynamics between Edinburgh and London. At the moment the path to independence seems shelved for several reasons, from the pragmatism of Sunak to the resignation of Nicola Sturgeon to a series of international issues that have deflated the dreams of secession. There is disaffection with respect to independence from the United Kingdom, as shown by the most recent polls. However, in such a turbulent period of European history and also of the life of the United Kingdom, it is not said that outbreaks of protest cannot be rekindled, despite the definitive “no” of the Court of London to a new referendum.
The crux of relations with the EU
On the international front, London must also deal with what is the big question mark of recent years: its definitive disengagement from the European Union. After the hottest period of Brexit, now the Kingdom must finally figure out “what to do when you grow up”. The throne of Charles III is contemporary with Britain’s hope of returning “global Britain”, as coveted by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his well-known strategic program in conjunction with Brexit. To do this, British foreign policy must inevitably focus on the ancient and now lost empire, transformed into a network of partnerships where undoubtedly the scepter of power is tranipped from London to Washington.
Charles, a monarch who seems aware of the role of his country, will therefore have to represent a kingdom that wants to expose itself again on the international scene, and do so by reconsidering a foreign agenda that at least must recover ground in the East and Africa and that is building a role of Atlantic standard-bearer especially in the war in Ukraine. The post-Brexit Kingdom is in fact above all a power that bases its relations with Europe on bilateral agreements and loyalty to NATO. And this implies not only an insight into the strategic adversaries of the Euro-American bloc, starting with Russia, but also a more active role in consolidating partnerships with the West and with the countries traditionally linked to the Anglosphere. A somewhat unrealistic plan, given the internal difficulties of the country and also given the weight of international organizations and alliances.
The role of Charles III is certainly not the decisive one on the foreign or domestic policy front. But the new king can be incisive both in terms of image, fundamental even in a society like today’s, and on that of managing the divisions that the kingdom can live and the tensions between its territories and with the world of new and old alliances.