King Charles faces backlash over EU meeting
LONDON – King Charles III. had nothing to do with the Northern Ireland trade deal unveiled by Britain and the European Union on Monday. But you’d think he had his royal imprimatur on the deal.
It’s called the Windsor Framework, which happens to be the king’s family name. It was sealed at a luxury hotel in Windsor, west of London, where he has a lock. And there, at Windsor Castle, Charles welcomed one of the negotiators, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, to tea just minutes after she and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled the agreement to the world.
That courtesy visit, and the resulting photo of a smiling king who appeared to be celebrating his guest, sparked angry allegations from critics who said the government had wrongly recruited King Charles as an ally on one of the most contentious issues in British politics. Traditionally, Britain’s constitutional monarch has kept aloof from politics, let alone the damaging crosswinds of Brexit.
Buckingham Palace and Downing Street appeared to be at odds over who initiated the meeting with Ms von der Leyen. The palace said the king acted on government advice, while a spokesman for the prime minister said Mr Sunak “strongly believes it is for the king to make these decisions”.
To many, this may seem like a trivial dispute over protocol. However, historians have noted that the British monarch is a resonance figure for unionists in Northern Ireland, who are the main holdouts of the trade deal. Unionists favor keeping the northern part of the United Kingdom and are committed to the British monarch. Some observers said the government was making it harder for unionists to oppose them by giving the king such a prominent role in finalizing the deal and wrapping the deal under the Windsor name.
“The government called it the Windsor Agreement and tried to imply that it supports it,” said Vernon Bogdanor, an authority on constitutional monarchy at Kings College London. “I think the king has been put in a very embarrassing position.”
Other royal observers were less willing to let Charles off the hook because of his enthusiastic role in the day’s events. They said the king and his courtiers showed poor judgment in agreeing to meet Frau von der Leyen because Charles had a desire to appear statesmanlike, to be in the thick of things and to be on the right side of history .
“He could have met her today, tomorrow or next week,” said Peter Hunt, a former BBC royal correspondent. “It’s the responsibility of him and his people to decide if the moment is right and this wasn’t it. Their judgment was clouded because they were flattered at the prospect of being in the spotlight.”
At the request of the government, monarchs meet regularly with foreign leaders. Sometimes these leaders are far from palatable: Queen Elizabeth II met Nicolae Ceausescu, Romania’s despised dictator, and Russian President Vladimir V Putin, who once kept her waiting. Charles hosted a banquet for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa a week before he faced an impeachment vote on money laundering charges.
“We don’t know if he argued against it or not,” Professor Bogdanor said of the King’s meeting with Ms von der Leyen, “but either way he had to be OK with it.”
What makes this episode darker is that out of instinct and experience, Charles would probably embrace the Windsor framework. The deal aims to strengthen the UK and reshape relations between the UK and the European Union. While the King has never commented publicly on Brexit, he hinted at his views in a speech to the German Bundestag in 2020 when he said: “No country is really an island.”
In addition, Charles is a man of passionate political beliefs who is committed to everything from climate change to organic farming in ways his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, never did. He was frustrated, people with links to the palace said, when the government of Mr Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss, advised him not to attend the United Nations climate summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt last autumn.
After his accession to the throne in September, Charles admitted that he would have to give up all political involvement. He did not protest against the government’s advice to cancel the climate conference, but threw a glittering reception at Buckingham Palace before the event; The guest list included John Kerry, President Biden’s climate ambassador, and Stella McCartney, the fashion designer and daughter of Paul McCartney, who has championed sustainable manufacturing.
Climate change was one of the topics on the agenda of the king’s meeting with Frau von der Leyen, according to the palace, as was Russia’s war in Ukraine. Charles welcomed Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Buckingham Palace earlier this month when he visited London to address Parliament and make an appeal for Britain to provide Ukraine’s Air Force with fighter jets.
The government took note of this visit and brushed aside questions about the King’s meeting with Frau von der Leyen. “Ursula von der Leyen is a very senior international representative,” Secretary of State James Cleverly told LBC radio. “It is therefore not uncommon for us to host a meeting when hosting international guests.”
But Britain’s support for Ukraine is widely accepted by the political establishment. The post-Brexit trade status for Northern Ireland, on the other hand, is the subject of almost theological debate among hardline Brexiteers in Mr Sunak’s Conservative Party and unionist politicians in Northern Ireland.
Both groups expressed dissatisfaction with the king’s visible presence. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a Eurosceptic Conservative lawmaker and former cabinet minister, told GB News that “the sovereign should only be involved when things are finalized and accepted”.
Arlene Foster, a former First Minister of Northern Ireland and leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said on Twitter, “It’s blatant and will go down very poorly in NI. We must remember that this is not the king’s decision, but the government, which appears to be deaf.”
Some of this uneasiness may reflect the importance of the monarchy to unionists. Professor Bogdanor said unionists tended to view their loyalty to the king as more contractual than people in England, for whom loyalty was generally automatic. At the heart of that contract, he said, was union preservation.
“The King has had a tremendous resonance in Northern Ireland,” he said. “The king is what separates unionists from nationalists.”
And yet Charles has been on the throne for less than seven months. His mother ruled for 70 years, making her an icon in Belfast, where her portrait can be seen on murals and walls in the city’s union quarters. Some pundits predicted that the debate over the King’s role would quickly die down as unionists became busy reading the text of the Windsor Agreement with keen eyes.
“If it had been the Queen, maybe it would have mattered,” said Katy Hayward, a politics professor at Queen’s University in Belfast. “But I haven’t seen or heard anything to suggest it raised more than an eyebrow.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/28/world/europe/uk-king-charles-northern-ireland.html King Charles faces backlash over EU meeting