The week before last, the U.K. experienced unprecedented change, with both a new head of government and then a new head of state in just over 48 hours. The death of Queen Elizabeth II is more momentous and ushered the country into an unusual hiatus, with a mix of national mourning to mark one sovereign’s passing and regal ritual to welcome the new. However, when this ends with the late queen’s funeral today, the new heads of state and government, King Charles III and Liz Truss, will be left leading a United Kingdom that is profoundly divided.
The danger these divisions pose is exacerbated by the fact that the U.K. is a nation—or nations, to be more accurate, as it is a multinational state—that operates without a written constitution to clearly define the terms on which its constituent parts are governed, or indeed the precise limits in the power held by either the Crown or the prime minister in governing them. The ambiguities of an uncodified constitution have long been celebrated by Britons as a pro rather than a con, allowing political adaptation and evolution, and avoiding the stalemates and instability often seen in other countries.
Clearly, however, this flexibility has run its course. Brexit created an impasse for the country’s political system for years, and the leader who seemed to unblock it, Boris Johnson, has now been ousted—the third prime minister to fall in the past six years. Stability and political consensus are no longer words easily associated with the U.K. system of governance.