Cyprus Mail
CM Regular ColumnistOpinion

Elizabeth’s reign was as unique as it was long

britain's queen elizabeth has died at age 96
A man installs a plaque depicting Britain's Queen Elizabeth, following her passing, in Belfast, Northern Ireland

And no, she could not have reprieved Evagoras Pallikarides in 1956

 

Queen Elizabeth may have passed away but some of us of a certain age will remain Elizabethans until “we too into the dust descend.” Like William Shakespeare at the time of the first Elizabeth, 1558-1603, we are Elizabethans because our Elizabeth’s reign was as unique as the Bard’s – by the way the above quote is not from Shakespeare but from the Rubaiyat by the Persian poet Omar Khayyam.

But you need more than to have lived when Elizabeth II was queen to be Elizabethan. You need to have been generationally associated with her reign. Winston Churchill may have been Queen Elizabeth’s first prime minister from 1951 to 1955, but he was not Elizabethan, and neither were the next three Conservative prime ministers, Anthony Eden, Harold Macmillan and Sir Alec Douglas Home. Churchill was Victorian, Eden and Macmillan Edwardian and Alec Home nondescript. Every prime minister from Harold Wilson in 1964 to Boris Johnson in 2022 has been Elizabethan, and so is Liz Truss.

And it’s not just people that are Elizabethan. The Commonwealth, multiculturalism, the liberal values of race, gender, gay equality and respect for human rights are all associated with the reign of Elizabeth II. And so are television, the internet and smart phones. There are many other people and things associated with her reign.

I thought that Queen’s Counsel (QCs) appointed by the Queen during her reign would retain their suffix after she was succeeded by her son but I was mistaken. No disrespect to King Charles, but KC does not have the same ring to it. Still KC I shall have to be because it is the way of the law though I shall always be Elizabethan.

Queen Elizabeth II is also associated with decolonisation but although the trials and tribulations of the retreat from the British empire occurred while she was queen it is important people from Britain’s former colonies know that all decisions about the colonies were made by the government of the day, and not by the queen personally. Her Majesty had royal prerogative powers, but all that means in British constitutional law is that the power is exercised by the elected government without the need for legislation.

In Cyprus the case of Evagoras Pallikarides still rankles, and so it should because he was not only under age at the time of commission of the offence for which he was convicted in 1956, but the imposition of capital punishment by the British colonial government for carrying a nonfunctioning firearm was in breach of peremptory norms of international law and wholly disproportionate.

However, the queen had nothing to do either with the draconian emergency criminal law under which young Evagoras was convicted, or the sentence of death by hanging imposed on him, or the handling of the request for a reprieve.

The government of the day in 1957 was that of Harold Macmillan and the request for a reprieve would have been passed onto his minister for the colonies, and Cypriot ire about the execution of young Evagoras should be directed at the Conservative government of the day.

The queen herself was not in any way involved. Indeed, there were other decisions not to reprieve or pardon in England at the time and they were all made by the minister of the interior.

Elizabeth II was the perfect type of a perfect head of state. Head of the political system but above party politics; engaged with the international community but above international conflicts; head of the Commonwealth but above the many differences that divided Britain’s former colonies from the motherland.

Here today, gone tomorrow politicians and leaders came and left, but she was there. They became dated and grey, but she was there, her familiar acuity intact. The tragedy of her passing is that we got so used to her always being there we thought she was forever. So did her son and heir now King Charles III. He wouldn’t have welcomed her passing of course, but he must have had mixed emotions as he rushed to Balmoral castle, her summer retreat, on Thursday September 8, 2022.

On Tuesday September 6, Johnson saw the queen at Balmoral castle in Scotland and resigned and Liz Truss, who also travelled there, was asked to form a government and kissed hands also at Balmoral. I wrongly thought that the two prime ministers having to go to HM put them both in their place and was good for the union at a time when talk of independence is rife in Scotland. If the queen is in Scotland both her outgoing and incoming prime ministers must come to her from London not the other way round, I thought.

Truss went through a republican phase before she became a rabid Tory and having to go Scotland to be asked to form a government would teach her not to get ideas above her station, just in case there are republican vestiges left in her.

I got it wrong because it was disclosed after she died that the queen, being modest and conscientious, was very upset she could not return to London, which forced both her outgoing and incoming prime minister to fly to Scotland. We shall miss her terribly.

 

Alper Ali Riza is a king’s counsel in the UK and a retired part time judge

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