United Kingdom: Queen’s Death Weakens Commonwealth Ties

Queen Elizabeth II’s passing may lead to independence bids from some the of 15 remaining realms under the rule of the British monarchy.

On September 19, millions of Brits paid their last respects to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who was laid to rest at Windsor Castle. For many, they weren’t only mourning the passing of their long-reigning sovereign, but also the end of an era closely linked to the country’s colonial past.

During her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth II made frequent trips to Commonwealth countries, many former colonies. But the number of Commonwealth countries or realms the Queen presided over as head of state dwindled from 32 at the start of her reign to just 15 at the time of her death: including Jamaica, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent & the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua & Barbuda, and Saint Kitts & Nevis. Some former colonies declared independence, while others—like Fiji, Mauritius, and Barbados—became republics.

The broader 56-member Commonwealth group promotes economic and trade interests. While its roots lie in the former British empire, many of its members are republics already independent of the monarchy. 

But for the 15 countries that remain parliamentary monarchies, the Queen’s passing may present an opportunity to shrug off colonial pasts. During an official visit by the former Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in March, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness put the monarchy on notice that the island would seek independence.

Other countries may follow. “Queen Elizabeth II’s death marks a watershed moment for the future of the Commonwealth, with a variety of member nations in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean asking whether the time has now come to not only bid farewell to Queen Elizabeth II, but to the British Royal Family as a whole,” the Organization for World Peace wrote in a September 19 blog post. In the same post, Malaysian politician Lee Boon Chye says his country should reconsider its membership in the Commonwealth, alluding to its colonial legacy.