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Queen death announcement plans caused strain between Britain and Commonwealth – University of Reading

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Queen death announcement plans caused strain between Britain and Commonwealth

Release Date 23 February 2006

The Houses Of ParliamentDr Philip Murphy from the University of Reading has uncovered previously un-seen documents in The National Archives which reveal an unexpected source of tension between Britain and the Commonwealth in the 1950s and 1960s. The recently released files relate to discussions about how the British government planned to involve Commonwealth countries in the possible announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The decision to create a specific protocol for this seemingly unlikely event stemmed from the fact that the monarch's death represented a moment of vulnerability in Britain's relations with the Commonwealth. After the fall of the British Empire, many Commonwealth countries adopted republican constitutions but the British government were still keen to involve those countries in British constitutional affairs. Great importance was placed by the government on the need for the announcement of the monarch's death to be accompanied by a display of Commonwealth unity. Yet for the newly formed Commonwealth countries who still felt the influence of the British Empire, the monarch's death presented an opportunity to make a symbolic assertion of their autonomy from the United Kingdom. Officials were particularly keen that Commonwealth representatives should attend the Accession Council in order to proclaim the Queen's successor. The files in The National Archives reveal that secret consultations periodically took place to check whether Commonwealth countries would be prepared to participate. Problems arose in cases such as Tanzania – a Commonwealth state that had broken off relations with Britain. Uncertain whether a Tanzanian representative should be invited to the Council, civil servants were forced to scrutinise the President of Tanzania's personal relations with the Queen. According to Dr Murphy, 'The newly-disclosed files point to a significant debate within Whitehall and Buckingham Palace during the 1960s about how far British rituals and institutions which were regarded as having a peculiarly British history should be adapted to meet the needs of a changing Commonwealth. It is clear, for example, that the Queen's private secretary opposed changes in the Accession Proclamation which would have made it more acceptable to the republican government of Zambia.' Dr Murphy's paper on the subject appears in March's edition of 'The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History'. End For further information contact Eleanor Holmes, University of Reading press officer on 0118 378 6166 or

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