9 Sep 2022

What happens now Queen Elizabeth II has died

9:01 am on 9 September 2022
Queen Elizabeth II arrives for the state banquet in her honour at Schloss Bellevue palace on the second of the royal couple's four-day visit to Germany on June 24, 2015 in Berlin, Germany.

Queen Elizabeth II. Photo: Getty Images / Sean Gallup

The world was a very different place 70 years ago when Queen Elizabeth II took the throne, as was the United Kingdom's place in it. There have been wars, famines, natural disasters and a pandemic in the last seven decades, but throughout that all the queen was a constant figure in people's lives. What changes now she is dead, and how could her death impact New Zealand and the world?

'London Bridge' - the UK government's plan for what will happen in the days following her death - is underway. Preparations are being made for her funeral, which will be held at Westminster Abbey 10 days after her death. It is expected there will be two minutes' silence at midday on the day of her funeral, and processions will take place in London and Windsor.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, current planning is that there will be a state memorial service, and condolence books for the public to write in.

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The moment she died was the moment her eldest son Charles became King, but it could be some weeks or months away before his official Coronation. The Coronation ceremony has remained largely unchanged over the past 1000 years, so it is unlikely any major changes will be made. Traditionally, the Archbishop of Canterbury performs the Coronation, with the monarch being anointed with holy oil, given the orb and sceptre and crowned with St Edward's Crown.

While Charles, 73, will become King, there has been speculation over the years that the monarch's duties may be split between him and his eldest son William, who is now first-in-line to the throne.

While the now-King prefers a more transitional transfer, Kensington House - where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children live - are understood to want a more modern approach, which would include Prince William taking on more responsibility, according to this Politico article.

A so-called soft regency has reportedly been discussed, which could involve the King passing some of the more public duties to Prince William, but there is reportedly no consensus on how this would be managed.

In terms of the institution itself, it still has broad support in the UK, but it is doubted the King will have the same support as his mother did, and as a result will be subject to more intense scrutiny.

The King will also become the head of the Commonwealth - a role Queen Elizabeth II requested be passed on to him. Commonwealth leaders decided in 2018 he would take on the role, even though the position is not hereditary. Some argued at the time other members should get the chance to lead - an argument which may resurface following her death.

There are 54 Commonwealth nations, but only 15 Commonwealth Realms in which the Queen is Head of State, including the UK. Barbados was a Commonwealth Realm until early December when it officially became a republic, but it remains a member of the Commonwealth.

Its departure - described by one Barbadian historian as the "end of the story of colonial exploitation of the mind and body" - marked the first time a country had removed Queen Elizabeth II as head of state in almost three decades. It also raised questions about how many other countries could follow, particularly now she is dead.

"This will have consequences particularly within the English-speaking Caribbean," Kings College imperial and global history professor Richard Drayton told Reuters.

Dayton said there was talk of a republic in both Jamaica and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

"The queen has had an enormous personal relationship to many of these countries and has shown her own commitment to the Commonwealth vision which she inherited from that imperial moment of the 1940s and 1950s, so I do think that in the wake of the queen's passing that some of these questions would become more urgent in places like Canada and Australia," he said.

But what about in New Zealand? Former prime minister Helen Clark said in 2013 she thought New Zealand would eventually have "serious conversations" about becoming a republic, while John Key - also former prime minister - has said that he believes it will happen in his lifetime.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she also believes New Zealand will become a republic, but she had "never sensed urgency" from the public, and so the government was not treating it as a priority.

Her predecessor Andrew Little said in 2016 that the end of the Queen's reign would be a good time to debate New Zealand's constitutional arrangements.

"Do we still want our head of state living in London or do we want to do something else and stand on our own two feet?," he said at the time.

As for our bank notes, the Reserve Bank said in 2017 it did not have plans to update the $20 note with Queen Elizabeth II's face on it following her death, and it was unlikely to "fast-track" withdrawing cash featuring her.