Lhe seventy years of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign is celebrated not only in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Commonwealth Member States are invited to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of a Queen who, since the post-war period, has embodied the link between the United Kingdom and its former colonial possessions. Of “the empire on which the sun never sets”there are only a few confetti under British sovereignty such as Gibraltar, the Cayman Islands, Saint Helena or the Falklands.
But, more than sixty years after decolonization, Elizabeth II remains not only the queen of sixteen states including Canada and Australia, but the head of the Commonwealth, which brings together fifty-four countries including India, South Africa , Nigeria and Rwanda.
Unlike France, which sometimes got bogged down in its former colonies and never succeeded in getting the International Organization of La Francophonie off the ground, the United Kingdom was able to maintain a flexible link with its former “dominions” under the form of a “community” bringing together 2.5 billion inhabitants. The word “Commonwealth”, long synonymous with empire, has been cleverly retained to designate a group of independent states linked to London.
The political choice to associate the Crown, a symbol of unity and continuity, with this heterogeneous community and the constancy with which Elizabeth II traveled the world enabled London, served by the power of the English language, to perpetuate its influence. on part of its former empire and to play a diplomatic role greater than its real weight. The Queen is no longer the head of state of all the countries of the Commonwealth, which has expanded to non-British territories and includes republics.
But this pragmatism, combined with the respected figure of the queen, was not enough for the former imperial power to find a stable place in the world. “Britain has lost an empire but has not yet found a role”, had launched, in 1962, Dean Acheson, former American Secretary of State. Six decades later, the projection remains relevant. After believing they had found their place in the European Union (EU), the British slammed the door by choosing Brexit in 2016.
According to its promoters like Boris Johnson, the divorce with Europe should make it possible to reconnect with imperial greatness by favoring ties with China and the countries of the Indo-Pacific region, often members of the Commonwealth. But the Chinese tropism of conservative governments has come up against Beijing’s brutality in Hong Kong. As for the redeployment in the Indo-Pacific, if it was successful with the signing of the American-British-Australian Aukus defense agreement, it is giving disappointing results in terms of trade. Moreover, the questioning of the globalization of the economy highlights the paradox of a British policy maintaining tension with its closest and main partner, the EU.
The atmosphere of the end of the reign linked to the great age of Elizabeth II risks reinforcing this relative isolation: after Barbados, which broke with the Crown, Jamaica and Australia threaten to do the same. Whatever Prince Charles, heir to the throne and the title of head of the Commonwealth, does, this “community” of states linked to London will no longer be the same when the time comes to succeed the queen. From today, it is up to British politicians to reinvent the United Kingdom’s place in the world.