Q&A: CSU expert on death of Queen Elizabeth II and future of British monarchy

Peter Harris
Petter Harris, an associate professor of political science at CSU, is an expert on international relations and U.S. foreign policy.

Queen Elizabeth II died Thursday at her summer retreat at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. She was 96 years old.

She was crowned on June 2, 1953 and her nearly 70-year reign makes her the world’s longest serving monarch. Her son Charles is now king. 

Peter Harris, an associate professor in the Colorado State University Department of Political Science, is an expert on international relations and U.S. foreign policy. He was also born in the U.K. and says the queen’s passing will mark a “significant day” for the country.

“Only people in their mid-70s or older can remember life before the queen,” Harris said. 

Harris spoke to SOURCE about what’s next after the queen’s death, what impact it could have geopolitically and what it means for the future of the British monarchy.

SOURCE: How will the death of the queen impact the U.K.?

Harris: The monarchy is all about stability and continuity. The second the queen passed away, a really well-orchestrated sequence of events was set into motion. The goal is continuity at every single level. 

We will likely see public displays of shock and trauma in the coming weeks. 

If there’s one purpose that a monarch has: It’s to represent stability and continuity. The monarchy is a bulwark against uncertainty. So, while the Palace and government officials will portray this news as a time for national “coming together,” nothing will change in terms of the system or how the government operates day-to-day.

Britain’s new Prime Minister Liz Truss met the queen earlier this week. What does the Queen’s death mean for her agenda?

It means that Liz Truss will get some breathing space. There’s been a lot of scrutiny that the Conservative Party was somewhat disunited after a bitter leadership election contest, and the Labour Party kind of sensed an opportunity to make political hay out of this. 

Now, we have 10 days of national mourning before the funeral takes place, so on a cynical, political side, this takes eyes off the prime minister at least for a little while. 

It won’t delay the government’s policy agenda so to speak. The government will still operate, and Britain will continue to grapple with inflation and an increasing cost of living. But, it will probably be taboo to criticize the government for a week or two.

You mentioned many Brits don’t remember life before the queen. What does it mean to lose what many consider a symbol of the country?

Queen Elizabeth II meant a lot to a lot of people, rightly or wrongly. They grew up with her, and she was a very easy figure to be deferential to. She’s been an elderly lady for decades, she’s very dignified, very well liked, and by all accounts did her job – such as it is – very well. 

Charles is not an easy figure to be deferential to. He’s male, he’s been ridiculed by the press for years, he became divorced from Princess Diana, who became a very popular person in contrast to him, and the new Queen Consort Camilla is not particularly popular. 

It remains to be seen how popular the monarchy will be after Elizabeth II’s passing. She’s personified it for so long, and we don’t know how the population will respond to a monarch that’s not Elizabeth.

What, if anything, does this mean for diplomacy with the U.S.?

Queen Elizabeth II was the ceremonial head of state, and every country will likely put out some sort of statement in response to her death. However, it won’t change much in terms of international relations. 

One thing that could change is that Commonwealth Realms (places like Australia, New Zealand and many countries in the Caribbean where the British monarch is the ceremonial head of state) could move toward becoming republics. 

This was already a trend while Elizabeth was alive. It might now accelerate given that Charles does not have the same kind of attraction she has.

What will you be watching for in the coming months?

For a Brit living abroad in America, I’m really interested in the question of how long the institution of the monarchy can survive. It’s a popular institution now, but I’m curious to see if that changes now that Charles is monarch instead of Elizabeth. 

With that being said, the monarchy has been preparing for this for decades, since Charles is conscious of the fact that people don’t like him as much as his mother. He’ll come in with a new team, and the Palace will have a plan to get the public to warm up to him, and maybe move the monarchy toward becoming a more modern institution. 

I come back to this hunch that Elizabeth was uniquely easy to be deferential to. She was like the grandma of the nation, whereas Charles – and William after him – will be like a dad. People rebel against their dad, they don’t rebel against their grandma.