Elizabeth II’s death opens an uncertain future for the Commonwealth

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the group of 54 nations with British ties, known as the Commonwealth, faces an uncertain future after some of the countries that make it up have hinted at the possibility of posing a republican future, outside the margins of the British monarchy.

Founded in late 1926, the Commonwealth seeks to foster political and economic cooperation although, since the middle of the last century, membership has not meant that member countries must pay obeisance to the British monarch.

Although under the long reign of Elizabeth II the organization has seemed to enjoy some stability–despite the recent breakup of Barbados–after the monarch’s death some nations have opened up the possibility of leaving the Commonwealth.

Thus, countries such as Antigua and Barbuda or New Zealand have left, to a greater or lesser extent, the door open to republicanism, thus following in the footsteps of Barbados, which in November 2021 withdrew recognition of Elizabeth II as head of state in an act attended by Charles III, then Prince of Wales and heir to the British monarchy.

Now, after the historic demise of the evergreen Elizabeth II, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, has announced that he will call a referendum to determine the future sovereign of the Caribbean archipelago, a British colony until 1981.

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According to Prime Minister Browne, this step should not be interpreted as “an act of hostility”, but is necessary to “complete that circle of independence” and “guarantee” the sovereignty of the nation.

Joining Antigua and Barbuda, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has left the door open for the Oceanic country to disengage from the British monarchy and, while she predicted that it will not be “a short-term move,” she does believe she will see this change before she dies.

“I have made my views clear many times. I think it (independence) is where New Zealand will be heading in the future. It’s likely to happen in my lifetime, but it shouldn’t be seen as a short-term measure or anything that’s on the agenda in the short term,” Ardern has said.

For his part, the Prime Minister of Australia, Anthony Albanese, leader of another of the large countries that make up the Commonwealth, acknowledged that “now is not the time to talk” about the possible departure of the group, and recalled that Elizabeth II always “respected the self-determination of the Australian people”.

Meanwhile in Canada, although opinion polls show a certain desire for independence, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seems to leave this issue off his political agenda, especially considering that, at the constitutional level, to approve any change in this regard requires the unanimous support of all provincial legislatures.

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More determined seem to be the Jamaican authorities, for although in recent days they have not pronounced themselves on the matter, there exists in the Caribbean island a historical will for independence recognized by the Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, last March.

Along the same lines, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, demonstrations against the monarchy have taken place in the past and its head of government, Ralph Gonsalves, proposed in July to hold a referendum, although he acknowledged that this could only be carried out after an agreement with those in favor of remaining part of the Commonwealth.

On another level are countries such as the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Lucia, where there are also independence movements although they have not been reactivated in recent times, not even after the death of Elizabeth II.

Thus, the future of the Commonwealth is shaping up as one of the great challenges to be faced by Charles III, who, after years of waiting to take the baton, already in his first speech as king made his mother’s “deep personal commitment” to the group of nations his own.

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