LONDON — For the first time since the 2016 Brexit vote, Queen Elizabeth II has spoken out about the contentious issue of Britain’s upcoming exit from the European Union.
But she did it in an uncontentious way. This queen doesn’t do politics. That’s the key to her staying power: She rules by not ruling.
And so it was that on Tuesday evening, she referred to Brexit in an oblique way. She told the king and queen of the Netherlands that Britain is looking “toward a new partnership with Europe” and that shared values between Britain and Europe are “our greatest asset.”
Was she expressing a tinge of Remainer regret? Or is she a confident Brexiteer? As ever with Britain’s inscrutable monarch, it was impossible to know. That didn’t stop people from assuming that she is on their side.
“The Queen's a Leaver,” said one Twitter user.
Another wrote that “the Queen, using carefully chosen words, has expressed her opinion on the brexit disaster that is being forced upon the UK.”
Elizabeth was speaking at a Buckingham Palace state banquet for Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima.
“As we look toward a new partnership with Europe, it is our shared values and commitment to each other that are our greatest asset and demonstrate that even through change, our enduring alliance remains strong, and as innovators, traders and internationalists, we look with confidence to the future,” she said (starting at 3.30 in the clip below).
The queen is famously impartial on political matters. Unlike her more outspoken son Prince Charles, she is careful to keep her own counsel.
Buckingham Palace took action when, just a few months before the Brexit vote, the Sun tabloid published an “exclusive bombshell” on its front page that claimed the “Queen Backs Brexit.” The newspaper said that Elizabeth had shared her anti-European Union views with Nick Clegg, the then-deputy prime minister. Clegg said the report was “nonsense.”
The palace lodged a complaint to the media watchdog and insisted that the queen is politically neutral. The watchdog ruled that the headline was misleading, but the paper stood by its piece.
Although the queen rules above the political fray, she has shown a card or two over her long reign. During the Scottish referendum campaign, she told a well-wisher outside a church that Britons should think “very carefully about the future,” which some interpreted as support for Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom.
For his part, the king of the Netherlands said he is saddened by Brexit but respects the decision.
“We are sorry to see you go, although we fully respect your decision,” Willem-Alexander said during a banquet Tuesday evening.
He also said, “A lot of attention is focused on the ‘technical’ side of Brexit. That’s understandable and necessary.”
“But in the midst of all that complexity,” he said, “we should not lose sight of the greater narrative that continues to bind us. The greater narrative of freedom, openness and cooperation, of growth and a prosperity whose fruits are enjoyed by all.”
Willem-Alexander also praised the queen’s “adventurous streak,” referring to her appearance alongside actor Daniel Craig in the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics.
The queen played, he said, the “most fearless Bond Girl ever.”