Controversial Guests, Protocol: The Diplomatic Conundrum of Elizabeth II’s Funeral

Since Westminster Abbey can only hold around 2,000 people, only heads of state and one or two guests will have been invited to Britain’s first state funeral since 1965.

Several crowned heads have confirmed their presence at the funeral of the sovereign who reigned for more than 70 years.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako will make their first foreign trip since ascending the throne in 2019.

Prince Albert II of Monaco and his wife Charlene, King Philippe of Belgium and his wife Queen Mathilde, Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima and Princess Beatrix, and King Harald V of Norway will attend.

Queen Margrethe of Denmark would now be the only reigning queen in Europe.

Spain’s King Felipe VI will be there, but his father, Juan Carlos I, abdicated in 2014 and now lives in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

US President Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden, who topped the list of diplomatic guests, landed in London on Saturday evening.

Unlike other leaders, who are asked to travel to the Abbey on state-chartered buses, Joe Biden is allowed to use his armored presidential limousine, “The Beast.”

“Can we think a little about the person in charge of the Elysée who, in London, has to notify President Macron that he needs to get on the bus?”, laughs the Sunday Times.

A real visiting French president would have said “no” to the bus, but we don’t know what arrangements have been made.

There is another difficulty in placing the guests, the Times underlines: “It is necessary to avoid the risk of offending anyone by being placed behind a pillar and to ensure that no one comes to fight.”

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Other than European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel, who are making the trip despite tensions following Brexit, some of the guests have included sometimes controversial figures.

Turkish Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), have continued to be criticized by NGOs for severe human rights abuses in their country and were ostracized from the international arena after the assassination of journalist Jamal. Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey in 2018.

Chinese President Xi Jinping will not be there, but his Vice President Wang Qishan will attend the funeral, while an official Chinese delegation has denied the right to pray in front of the sovereign’s coffin.

The humiliation comes after China imposed sanctions on British MPs who criticized China’s human rights record.

Russia and Belarus are among a small list of countries barred from the queen’s funeral after Moscow invaded Ukraine, which Moscow deemed “blasphemous” and “immoral.”

Burma, a former British colony, is ruled by a military junta sanctioned by London, but Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea are also excluded.

“We hope that dignitaries from around the world who will be making this trip will understand that this is a difficult challenge and an extraordinary situation,” a government spokesman said on Tuesday, anticipating criticism of the inevitable tough security protocol.

More than 2,000 officers from across the country have been deployed to provide security for Scotland Yard.

Tributes have been rare since news of the Queen’s death broke, but on Friday a man was charged with disturbing the peace after breaking out of the queue and approaching the coffin.

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