It is still early in the morning when some visitors settle in the light rain in front of the portal of the British consulate near Schumanplein. The usual expats, exchange students and adventurers are today joined by a few curious people. But when the cast-iron gate opens slowly, a consular officer immediately expresses the expectation: No press, no comment. It is a first sign of the tight communication strategy that The Firm handles.
There is also no influx in an Anglo-Scandinavian grocery store nearby. In the meantime, the red awning of The Hairy Canary has been lowered on the other side. The Irish pub in the heart of the European Quarter is getting ready to open. The United Kingdom has been out of the European Union for nearly a thousand days, yet the blue-and-yellow flags of the European Commission are still flying at half-mast. Out of sight is not out of mind, but English mourning is hardly noticeable in the streets.
• What happens until the Queen’s funeral?
A branch of the Waterstones bookshop, a pearl of the British book trade, is located just 350 meters from De Brouckèreplein. In the display case hangs an impromptu obituary: ‘Queen Elizabeth II 1926-2022’. An employee looks on, shaking his head. “We’ve been tagged,” she says, pointing to a blurry spot under the A4 sheet. She doesn’t say a word about recent events. ‘Our parent company was emphatically asked by the government not to comment during the mourning period.’
Fact or fiction? That reluctance is remarkably common. ‘This is surely the end of an era’, says Teresa Lulume (18). “Neither I nor my parents have ever known another monarch. It is beautiful to see how Elizabeth managed to unite her people over and over again. Kind of like a grandmother at the head of a big family.’ Her traveling companion Tyresse Anonuevo (18) agrees. “The Queen was everything the crown stood for.” What exactly should that crown stand for? “Well, stability, security and unity.” he says decisively. “I just hope things stay the same under Charles.”
That immediately puts the finger on the shaky popularity of the new king. “Nobody really likes him,” Lulume says in a whisper. “We just love our country as it is now. It’s in everyone’s interest that he keeps the Commonwealth together.’ Remarkable words for a British adolescent whose roots lie in a former British colony.
The British-Italian expat Elisa Mussio (30) is not surprised. This is a direct consequence of Brexit. All the time, it sounded like “it wasn’t so bad that we left the EU, because we still had the Commonwealth”. That’s totally absurd isn’t it? I have tons of respect for Elizabeth as a human being, but the eternal praising of the British royal family is so misguided. Everyone seems to forget that until today the Windsors are trying with all their might to maintain their dominance. I don’t know if that’s the world we should aspire to.’