The Royal Narrative in a Brexit/Post-Brexit World

Focus By Deimantas (Daanish) Steponavicius*


There is no denial that the main driver behind the Brexit always has been anti-immigrant rhetoric- bogeyman. The reality is that although Prince Harry is the most popular member of the royal family, with an approval rating higher than the Queen’s, he is sixth in line to the throne, so his wedding had no constitutional significance whatsoever (that is why it was "allowed" to happen, in the first place).

On the 20 of October, in Sydney Opera House, Prince Harry opened Invictus Games.

His opening speech was passionate and moving. He clearly believed in every word he said. Invictus is part of XXIst century with its conflicts and contradictions. Prince Harry is recognized by the world as crucial part of Invictus and, by extension, as a part of XXI century.

Britain is going through the period of loss. The loss of the Meaning.

On the same day, 20 of October, back in London, just over 700,000 of young people marched to the Houses of Parliament demanding the Final Say in the outcome of Brexit. These people also belong to the XXI century. The land of Shakespeare, Brunel, Locke, Darwin, Newton, etc, is walking towards the cliff-edge.

What do you see when you look at Great Britain? A group of small to medium sized isles off the coast the Continent of Europe. Even Mercator's maps with West-centric bias tell you all you need to know about the “physical fact” of British Isles.

All the rest is the collection of “stories, and narratives”. It all exist in imagination of our collective of minds. The physical facts of the world cannot be “true or false”. Only “descriptions, interpretations” of these facts can. Truths and Lies lie inside our descriptions, narratives, dreams and stories we constantly tell to ourselves and each other.

Our collective and individual existence is narrative driven. What is happening in the UK now is the battle of “descriptions” of the same set of physical facts. Brexit, Non-Brexit, Soft-Brexit, Hard Brexit, Boris Johnson (he is a physical fact that persuaded us that he is a ‘Story’), Reese- Moggs (another physical fact that turned itself into a Gothic Horror Tale), etc. What is happening is a war for people's minds.

There are three fundamental narratives that need to be looked at to understand the mess UK has got itself into.


British physical Empire has been gone since mid-sixties. It has been replaced by imaginary financial services and offshore tax havens based Empire (it roughly matches the perimeter of former physical Empire). The problem with economy based on financial services and offshore tax havens is that it can and does exist inside imagination of entire nation. It could potentially work, provided it is supported by very strong narrative of “National Identity”. That leads us to the second narrative.


One of core elements of story the British have been telling themselves was "my word is my bond, we never leave our partners behind at the first difficulty". The biggest damage done by Brexit is not that of economy, but the one of abandoning and leaving behind partners bound by promise (word) given. Thus, the "treachery" as a new core trait crept in. Consciously, majority could not articulate what was that suddenly made the entire nation look for objective reasons to alleviate the new national Cognitive Dissonance. "Clutching the straws" commenced-stories that "EU was CIA creation" (although this one is partially true), EU was created to enrich Germany and France (partially true), "all jobs are returning from immigrants to true Brits" (in fact, most of the jobs done by immigrants are the ones true Brits wouldn't touch with a barge pole) etc. When Cognitive Dissonance becomes unbearable, it is time for “Misdirection”.

3. This leads us to the third narrative-BOGEYMAN.

The purpose of this narrative is to define an outside force that could be used to explain away everything that under normal circumstances would call for admission of blame and taking responsibilities for real or perceived mistakes that had been made. In the past that used to be "evil communism". Now replaced by "evil foreigners" (they speak in strange tongues and have weird customs and they are suspect, anyway).

Then there is one stand-alone Narrative- THE ROYAL FAMILY NARRATIVE.

The one constant "fixture" of the Kingdom, the one Narrative that Still somehow holds it all together in British psyche is the The Royal Family Narrative.

The core element of this narrative always has been the Queen.

The Queen has been the most reliable Signpost for the UK for the last 65 years. Although number of those questioning what is the point to The Royal Family has been growing sharply, it has never been really challenged because of almost irrational emotional charge behind it. The Rational answer of many Brits would be that Monarchy is an anachronism. However, "rational" has been occupying increasingly diminishing place in the decision making process of the Brits.

In fact, The Royal Family Narrative is the only national export that doesn't seem to have been affected by Brexit.

Let us analyze this narrative. Let us have a look at its constituent parts.

The Queen and Prince Philip. The core and the backbone of the narrative. Many generations grew up with it ever "ticking" in the background like a Grandfather clock.

Charles and Camilla. "Charles" part of the Narrative is better known for being lavish, for taking the royal train, for chartering jets, for having six butlers when one would suffice, for being for all things organic, for taking liberties,etc. It has captive audience of certain age (mainly male). "Camilla" part of the Narrative brings much needed light and fun and makes it more humane. "William and Kate" is a "quiet" one. It is mainly associated with involvement with selected charities and "Being a Mother" narrative. Then we have dozens of “Andrew”, “Edward”, etc- narratives that have a niche value.

And now we have come to the part of Royal Narrative that, in my opinion, is best suited for the XXI st century- "Harry and Meghan". Both parts of this narrative are backed by very strong metaphors. "Harry" part is associated with Invictus Games, with adventurous youth, with rebellious spirit. "Meghan" part is the strongest one, in the eyes of the outside world. Let me explain. She is an accomplished actress in her own right, with a global popularity and a strong personal recognition for genuine human rights related campaigns. She has the reach to the audiences otherwise inaccessible to any other members of the Royal Family. It can be expected that, supported by her association with Royal Narrative, she will become the most acceptable envoy for Britain, especially in the US, Mexico, South America. We can only imagine what Meghan's proud identity as an American of mixed race means for the royal family, whose members include figures with the views that haven't changed for many decades( some say-centuries).

The Royal Family is set to unleash a charm offensive around Europe in a bid to keep the continent (and the rest of the world, for that matter) on the "right" side in post-Brexit period.

There’s so much uncertainty about Brexit, about international relations, about UK’s relationship with the United States, about economy, about the future of the United Kingdom as a State and about people relationship with each other. The Royal Family is bound to succeed if it were to shwowcase the aspect of Cosmopolitan roots of the family- German, Russian, Greek, Amerindian, etc.

Let us bear in mind that even though Brexit has not yet happened, Britain is already perceived as somewhat much "narrower", much less tolerant land. There is no denial that the main driver behind the Brexit always has been anti-immigrant rhetoric- bogeyman. The reality is that although Prince Harry is the most popular member of the royal family, with an approval rating higher than the Queen’s, he is sixth in line to the throne, so his wedding had no constitutional significance whatsoever (that is why it was "allowed" to happen, in the first place). But, paradoxically, this makes "Harry and Meghan" narrative so much more acceptable.

It is no coincidence that Prince Harry said this in latest Invictus Games opening speech: "....We have learned to reject pessimism and cynicism. We have allowed ourselves to be inspired. And we have shared in moments of hope, joy, and triumph that have served as an antidote to the narrative of division and despair we too often allow to define our era. So when all of you compete over the next week, remember that you do so, not just for yourselves; not just for your families; not just for your nations.

You are competing with different flags on your chest, but you are competing together for one Invictus generation....".

Maybe, The Royal Family Narrative can drive the UK, once Great country, to the future that can be Imagined by the British People, the future where this nation will rediscover itself. Maybe the British People can write a new story about who they are in the XXI century. And Believe in it.

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