Watch: The post-Brexit era begins
On 1 January, many Britons raised a glass to seeing the back of 2020 – a year that will go down as one of the toughest in living memory.
For those who supported leaving the EU, there was a double celebration, as 31 December also marked the end of the Brexit transition period, meaning the UK’s departure from the EU had finally been achieved.
Businesses, travellers and employees will have to get used to the new rules and regulations now that the UK is no longer part of the single market and customs union.
There could also be some changes for the Royal Family, who are a key part of the UK’s weaponry when it comes to diplomacy.
Royal tours are frequently described as “charm offensives” and form an important part of soft diplomacy, keeping relationships between the UK and other nations friendly.
In March 2020, shortly before the first UK lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus, Prince William and Kate visited Ireland for a three-day trip that was seen as significant in the Brexit year.
Kate followed in the footsteps of many royal women before her in incorporating plenty of green into her outfits on day one, followed by white and orange in a nod to the other colours of the Irish flag.
Her diplomatic wardrobe might have to expand in a post-Brexit world, as William and Kate could be called on for more of these charm offensives, as well as Prince Charles and Camilla.
In 2017, Charles and Camilla were sent on an extensive charm offensive tour in several EU countries, something of a rarity for royal trips.
As Article 50 was triggered, Charles left the UK for Romania, Italy and Austria, with ITV reporting that the Foreign Office believed the Royal Family were “a pretty useful bunch right now, when it comes to promoting the UK abroad”.
Speaking about changes in the royal agenda after Brexit, Camilla Tominey, associate editor of The Daily Telegraph, said: “There’s this sense that the Royal Family are ambassadors for team GB, but that’s going to be ever more important now that we have cut ties with the EU.
“No one packs a better soft power punch than the Royal Family.
“They can’t be commercialised, but they can fly the flag – that’s what they are for.”
She points out that the Royal Family are often rolled out when there are difficulties in a nation’s relationship with the UK.
The royals, particularly the Queen, have usually had stronger associations with Commonwealth nations. The Queen visited Canada more than any other nation when she was still travelling abroad, and her children and grandchildren have enjoyed visits there and to countries in the Caribbean and Australia.
Less frequent are trips to countries like Germany. When William and Kate went there in 2017, local media noted “the long-planned visit was auspiciously timed as the negotiations on Britain leaving the EU get under way in fits and starts”.
Sueddeutsche Zeitung said at the time: “What could you do in this situation to indicate to your neighbours that Britain is of course a stable nation? Obviously, you send in the royals.”
The Queen made a visit to Germany in 2015, one of her last trips, which was seen as very flattering.
Where might the royals be sent when trips abroad are back on the agenda? With the UK in extensive lockdown restrictions, it won’t be possible to plan any trips in the short term, but there are a few countries the government might have on the top of its list.
A trade deal was signed with Japan in October, but talks are still under way with the US, Australia and New Zealand.
The royals are no strangers to Australia and New Zealand. While a trip Down Under might help, the tours taken there tend to be extensive, requiring weeks of planning and lasting at least a fortnight, making it harder to put something together at a moment’s notice, especially with the pandemic ongoing.
The US is closer, and a trip to Washington DC might be of more pressing significance, as new president Joe Biden’s inauguration draws nearer.
Biden is of Irish heritage and has made it clear in the past he wants the border on the island of Ireland to remain open in a post-Brexit world.
Asked if he had a moment for the BBC back in November, he smiled and said “I’m Irish” before walking away.
Boris Johnson and his Cabinet will be keen for a deal with the US, and aware of how previous work with the last administration might be affected by a new team in the White House.
Prince William and Kate last went to the US in December 2014 and spent time with Biden, who was then vice-president, and Barack Obama, who was president.
Charles made a visit more recently, in December 2018, but only for the funeral of former President George HW Bush.
Biden and his wife, Jill, have also been friendly with Prince Harry, particularly through the Invictus Games.
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While Harry holds no formal royal sway any more, having stepped back in March 2020, the warmth between the Bidens and the royal brothers might help when it comes to soft diplomacy.
Wherever the royals are sent first as soon as they are able to take on tours, there’s little doubt they will be a vital part of securing Britain’s prosperity after Brexit.
Before the UK formally left the EU, Joshua Mackenzie-Lawrie, senior research executive for campaign group Get Britain Out, said: “As we get Britain out of the EU and look forward to promoting ourselves on the global stage, we as a country need to look no further than Buckingham Palace to find our best cheerleaders who are welcomed with open arms into almost any country in the word.
“Now more than ever we must embrace this unique opportunity and utilise it to its fullest extent.
“It has been decades since we have been able to really speak for ourselves on the world stage, and the Royal Family has one of the biggest megaphones available to make sure the whole world hears us as we return to being a truly ‘Global Britain’.”
The Foreign Office has been contacted for comment.