World leaders know their place at the funeral of the century – POLITICO
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LONDON – It was the grandest of state funerals. It was a rare moment of shared national reflection. It was also a masterclass in diplomatic choreography.
Two full hours before the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s solemn state funeral at 11 a.m. on Monday, world leaders began arriving. They came in waves – with a clear hierarchy displayed.
For most, their arrival at the 750-year-old Westminster Abbey, just opposite the Palace of Westminster, involved carefully stepping off a coach onto sawdust-strewn London pavement.
US President Joe Biden, apparently the only foreign visitor allowed to dodge the ‘park and ride’ VIP system in place for foreign dignitaries, arrived early in his armored limo known as ‘The Beast’. He was the first sitting US president to attend the funeral of a British monarch.
But the special privileges given to the so-called special relationship ended there.
Biden was forced to wait to take his place as a motorcade, including recipients of the Victoria Cross – the highest and most prestigious award in the British honors system for bravery – marching past him in the ‘aisle.
The American president and his wife then found themselves seated at the end of the south transept of the abbey, perched at the end of a row just behind the Polish president, Andrzej Duda. Jill Biden took her place next to Swiss President Ignazio Cassis.
Further up the pecking order were the rulers of the Commonwealth realms – nations for which Queen Elizabeth had remained head of state. Canadian President Justin Trudeau, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and new Australian leader Anthony Albanese all received later arrival times and larger seats inside the abbey.
They appeared to be arriving together, with Ardern confirming over the weekend that she was more than happy to take the shared VIP transport provided.
Despite concern from some foreign embassies over travel arrangements ahead of Monday’s funeral, other world leaders have also embraced shared travel. Nairobi-based media company Kenyans.co.ke carried a photograph of Kenya’s President William Ruto posing aboard a coach traveling to Buckingham Palace for the state reception on Sunday evening.
Some leaders had arrived at the funeral park and ride site in Chelsea, west London, as early as 7.30am, three and a half hours before the funeral was due to start. The first vehicle to cross the police line was registered with the Sudanese government, according to London’s Evening Standard. Italian President Sergio Mattarella was among the last to arrive, in a chauffeur-driven Maserati registered “ITA 1”.
French President Emmanuel Macron shared a coach with other European leaders, including European Council President Charles Michel. Macron caused a stir in London on Sunday afternoon after being spotted walk the streets with his wife Bridget. Irish President Michael D. Higgins, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol also arrived around the same time.
Foreign royals, arriving in luxury mini-buses, were given some of the best seats in the abbey, with King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and members of the Spanish royal family seated near the Queen’s immediate family near the altar. Europe’s oldest living monarch, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, sat directly across from King Charles.
Britain’s former prime ministers – John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson – arrived separately in a fleet of black BMWs. They were seated together, near the royal family in the choir stalls. Cherie Blair and Gordon Brown – famously disgruntled Downing Street neighbors in the 2000s – chatted animatedly as they waited for the service to begin. Former Tory leaders May and Johnson were tactfully separated by the genius Philip May.
Seated further back were the big and good of Britain’s political establishment, including Britain’s new Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, who had arrived wearing a a top hat for his bus journey from Chelsea. Other Cabinet members were joined by other senior ministers, including Climate Change Minister Graham Stuart and Security Minister Tom Tugendhat.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, now a senior executive at Facebook parent company Meta, arrived early, as did Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey, who was spotted deep in conversation with Labor leader Keir Starmer and the leader of the SNP in Westminster, Ian Blackford.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sat silently next to Labor leader in the House of Lords Angela Smith as he waited for the start of the service.
In a moment of extraordinary symbolism, Michelle O’Neill, deputy leader of the nationalist Sinn Féin party and First Minister-designate of Northern Ireland, was present and seated alongside party leaders from other British nations. Seated nearby were Democratic Unionist Party leader Jeffrey Donaldson and his predecessor Arlene Foster.
Keeping a low profile within the congregation were a number of current and former senior government officials.
Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s former private secretary who became Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser before stepping down earlier this year, was among a host of former royal courtiers invited. Seated next to former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith was Sue Gray, who wrote the ‘Partygate report’ that helped bring down Boris Johnson’s prime ministership. Tim Barrow, the UK’s new national security adviser and England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty were also seated at the back of the Abbey.
Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, who was a former private secretary to Prince William and is now the government’s top civil servant, arrived alongside Prime Minister Liz Truss. Truss, accompanied by her husband Hugh O’Leary, delivered the second reading of the service, a Bible passage. “Let your heart not be troubled,” she said. “In my father’s house there are many mansions.”
A host of other senior British politicians also won coveted Abbey seats, including Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Conservative backbench committee, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Welsh Prime Minister Mark Drakeford and Labor great Harriet Harman. Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves were also among the congregation. Deputy Speakers of the British Parliament Eleanor Laing, Rosie Winterton and Nigel Evans were also on the list of 2,000 funeral guests.
Only Russia, Belarus and Syria were excluded from the international gathering – a veritable “who’s who” of the Queen’s 70-year reign.