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Controversial guests, protocol: the diplomatic puzzle of Elizabeth II’s funeral

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  • Reading time:4 mins read

With Westminster Abbey only able to accommodate around 2,000 people, only heads of state and one or two guests per country would have been invited to Britain’s first state funeral since 1965.

Many 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 come on their first overseas trip since assuming the throne in 2019.

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

Queen Margrethe of Denmark, now the only reigning queen in Europe, will be present.

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

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

Unlike other leaders who were asked to come to the Abbey on government-chartered buses, Joe Biden was granted permission to use his armored presidential limousine, “The Beast”.

“Can we spare a thought for the person in charge of the Élysée who had to announce to President Macron that in London, he should get on the bus?”, laughs the Times on Sunday.

The French president, who will indeed be present, would have said “no” to the bus but we do not know what arrangements have been made.

Another difficulty lies in the placement of the guests, underlines the Times: it is necessary “to avoid any risk that anyone will feel offended by being placed behind a pillar and to ensure that no one comes to fight”.

In addition to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council Charles Michel who will make the trip despite the tensions following Brexit, some of the guests include sometimes disputed personalities.

Turkish Presidents Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will be there, as well as Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), regularly criticized by NGOs for serious human rights violations in his country and dismissed from the international scene after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate 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 been refused the right to pray in front of the coffin of the sovereign.

The affront comes after China imposed sanctions on British parliamentarians who criticized its human rights record.

Russia and Belarus are among a small group of nations that will be barred from the queen’s funeral after Moscow invaded Ukraine, a ban deemed “blasphemous” and “immoral” by Moscow.

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

“We are confident that dignitaries from around the world who will make the trip will understand that this is a daunting challenge and an unusual situation,” a government spokesperson said on Tuesday, anticipating criticism of the inevitably heavy security protocol.

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

Since the news of the Queen’s death, incidents have been rare at tributes, but a man has been charged with disturbing the peace after he left the queue and approached the coffin on Friday.