Queen Elizabeth II urges unity in annual Christmas message as Brexit looms

"Treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding," the queen said.
Image: Queen Elizabeth II Delivers Her Christmas Speech
Queen Elizabeth II poses for a photo after she recorded her annual Christmas Day message, in the White Drawing Room at Buckingham Palace in London, United Kingdom.WPA Pool / Getty Images

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By Rachel Elbaum

LONDON — In a year marked by bitter political debate over Brexit, Queen Elizabeth II focused on family, friendship and tolerance in her annual Christmas address to the nation.

“Through the many changes I have seen over the years, faith, family and friendship have been not only a constant for me but a source of personal comfort and reassurance,” she said in the televised speech recorded days earlier.

“Even with the most deeply held differences, treating the other person with respect and as a fellow human being is always a good first step towards greater understanding.”

The theme of unity won't be lost on a nation that remains divided by the issue of its divorce from the European Union. Britain is due to leave the E.U. in March but the past few months have been marked by political turmoil as ministers debate the terms of the U.K.'s departure from the 28-member bloc.

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Parliament is due to vote in mid-January on the deal that Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the E.U., but there remains uncertainty over whether it will pass and how Brexit will ultimately be resolved.

Though she is the head of state, the queen and the royal family don’t comment on or get involved in politics.

“Obviously British politics has been in some degree of turmoil and although she can't be partisan about what she thinks about Brexit or anything else, I think there is this sense that she knows she is the mother of the nation and she is a calming influence,” said NBC royal expert Camilla Tominey.

Sitting in front of a decorated fir tree, the 92-year-old monarch displayed family photos on her desk, including a black-and-white photo of herself; her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh; and a young Prince Charles taken in 1948. Charles, her eldest son and heir to the throne, celebrated his 70th birthday last month.

On Tuesday morning, the royal family attended a traditional Christmas Day church service as royal fans lined the streets of Sandringham — the country estate where the royals spend the holidays each year — to greet them.

The queen recapped the highlights of her year, including the many royal family celebrations. In April, she welcomed a new great-grandson, Prince Louis. A month later, Prince Harry married American actress Meghan Markle, and in October, her granddaughter Princess Eugenie wed.

The queen is set to welcome her eighth great-grandchild next spring when Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, gives birth.

“With two weddings, and two babies and another child expected soon, it helps to keep a grandmother well-occupied,” she said in the speech.

The royal family will spend Christmas afternoon together in Sandringham, where they too will watch the pre-recorded speech on television, according to Tominey.

“There's a sense to British people that if the queen is going to stop to watch it then so should the rest of us,” she said.