The Queen’s visit to Germany this week has been orchestrated by British government officials desperate to remind Germany of how important Britain is to the EU, according to an article in the Guardian. Ignoring the obvious cultural and historical ties that the two countries possess that could motivate the visit, the paper instead highlighted historical examples of the British monarchy being used to smooth over international tensions, with the implication that the same is being done now.
There are certainly tensions simmering in Europe that need to be calmed. But would the British government even attempt to use the Queen as a diplomatic tool in their quest to secure a satisfactory renegotiation?
The most obvious answer to this would be no. The fanfare surrounding the Queen’s visit is reminiscent of what would accompany a famous musician or actor rather than an influential political figure – the cult of celebrity seeping into an ancient institution. The hysteria with which the German media and public are approaching the visit implies that they see the Queen’s visit as a tourist attraction in their own back garden, rather than an exercise in international diplomacy.
Moreover, it seems unrealistic that the British government would attempt to sway Angela Merkel with such fanfare. Merkel is already well aware of the implications of Brexit, and doesn’t need a visit from the Queen to remind her. If there is any serious room for negotiation between Britain and the rest of the EU, the lines for it have already been drawn, and the discussions will play out elsewhere.
However, the idea that the Queen could assume this political purpose is not completely unfounded. When the Queen can and cannot intervene in politics is governed by constitutional convention rather than legislation, with the proviso being that she can exercise her formidable constitutional powers during ‘exceptional circumstances’.
What is classified as exceptional is rather ambiguous, as demonstrated by the widespread speculation about whether the Queen could intervene during a hung parliament prior to the 2010 and 2015 general elections. Yet the ramifications of Brexit could provide such a crisis that demands political engagement from the Monarch, and so such speculation is not entirely unjustified.
It’s unlikely that the Government would arrange a state visit to Germany solely as a tool of EU renegotiation. But, the Queen may still have an important role to play in the EU debate. With her vast geopolitical experience, who better to underline the importance of the issues at stake – and potentially give the Eurosceptics amongst the Tory ranks pause for thought?