Queen Elizabeth has sent a delicately coded message to Britain’s fractious political class over Brexit, urging lawmakers to seek common ground and keep their eyes on the big picture to resolve the crisis.
With the clock ticking down to March 29, the date set in law for Britain to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom is in the deepest political crisis in half a century as it grapples with how, or even whether, to exit the European project it joined in 1973.
While Elizabeth, 92, did not mention Brexit explicitly in an annual speech to her local Women’s Institute in Norfolk, the monarch said every generation faced “fresh challenges and opportunities.”
“As we look for new answers in the modern age, I for one prefer the tried and tested recipes, like speaking well of each other and respecting different points of view; coming together to seek out the common ground; and never losing sight of the bigger picture,” the queen said.
Though steeped in the conventional language the queen has made her hallmark, the monarch’s remarks in the context of Britain’s crisis are a signal to politicians to end the turmoil that has pushed the world’s fifth largest economy to the brink.
“She’s been a gold standard monarch for very nearly 67 years now and this is a particularly gilt-edged moment, I think it’s very important what she said and how she said it,” historian Peter Hennessy said.
Buckingham Palace declined to comment though the British media was clear about the significance of her remarks. The Times’ headline read: “End Brexit feud, Queen tells warring politicians”.
As head of state, the queen is expected to be neutral on politics in public and is unable to vote, though ahead of the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence she made a delicately crafted plea for Scots to think carefully about their future.
The future of Brexit remains unpredictable with options ranging from a disorderly exit that would spook investors across the world to a new referendum that could reverse the process.
The organiser of government business in the lower house of parliament, Andrea Leadsom, suggested on Friday that the EU could let Britain delay leaving the EU by a couple of weeks if required to get relevant legislation passed.
“I am absolutely certain that if we needed a couple of extra weeks or something then that would be feasible,” she told the BBC.
Leadsom’s comments come after a turbulent week in which several businesses warned about the dangers of a no-deal Brexit to jobs and investment in the country.
Prime Minister Theresa May is engaged in a last-ditch bid to win support for a tweaked divorce deal after parliament this month crushed the original plan, defeating the government by the biggest margin in modern British history.
May has been meeting lawmakers to discuss options on how to address concerns on the Irish “backstop”, a contentious policy to avoid a hard border in Ireland by keeping some EU rules in place should the two sides fail to agree any other solution.
“Work is ongoing, as to what we may eventually bring forward and potentially discuss with Brussels, we are not there yet,” her spokesman said.
The Northern Irish party which props up May’s minority government has decided to back her new deal if it includes a time limit to the backstop, The Sun newspaper reported.
Sterling scaled a high of US$1.3176 and was poised for its biggest weekly rise in more than a year as traders bet Brexit will be delayed. Options markets indicated sterling could rise to the mid-US$1.30s.
But in a sign of the turmoil at the heart of government, finance minister Philip Hammond declined to say if he would quit if Britain left the EU without a deal, a scenario he predicted would lead to short-term disruption and hurt the economy.
France and other European powers said they were preparing for the worst.
Goldman Sachs will invest less in the United Kingdom if there is a difficult or hard Brexit, chief executive officer David Solomon said.
“Our headcount in the UK over the last couple of years has not gone down but it hasn’t gone up either – we have added headcount you know on the continent,” Solomon told the BBC in Davos.
“But I would say that, over time, if this is resolved in a difficult way or a hard way, it’ll have an impact on where we invest and where we put people,” he said.