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Home World News Washington Post World News Queen Elizabeth II’s Funeral: The UK’s Biggest Security Detail After WWII

Queen Elizabeth II’s Funeral: The UK’s Biggest Security Detail After WWII


Police officers enter the grounds of the Palace of Westminster in London on September 15.
Police officers enter the grounds of the Palace of Westminster in London on September 15. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday will be attended by more than 70 heads of government from around the world, posing Britain’s biggest security challenge since World War II.

With as many as 2 million people expected to line the streets, and the royal family planning to walk behind the queen’s coffin in the open, police are trying to strike a balance between safety and pageantry.

Presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens who come from abroad add to the risk. Officials from Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence services, MI5 and MI6, are assessing terrorist threats as part of the massive security team working on the funeral.

On Monday, snipers will be stationed on rooftops, surveillance drones will fly over and 10,000 uniformed police officers will be on duty, with thousands of plainclothes officers among the crowd. For days, police with bomb-sniffing dogs patrol key areas. Private security guards will assist in crowd control.

Police from all over the country have come to help. From the Welsh Cavalry to the Royal Air Force, more than 2,500 uniformed servicemen will be in attendance.

With hotels fully booked, several hundred young soldiers slept on office floors and showered in portable stalls in a parking lot at Buckingham Palace.

“This is actually better than I’m used to,” said a soldier from Norfolk, about 100 miles north of London, as he walked to the outdoor showers with a towel over his shoulder.

A special unit called the Fixated Threat Assessment Center monitors “fixed” people – those identified as having potentially dangerous obsessions with the royal family.

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Cops will knock on their door and ask them, ‘Are you taking your? medicines? Are you going to London this weekend?” said Simon Morgan, a retired London police officer who served as Personal Protection Officer for the Queen and other members of her family, including her son, now King Charles III, from 2007 to 2013.

“The events of the past week will no doubt have prompted someone to want to do something,” said Morgan, who now runs a private security firm.

London’s Metropolitan Police have arrested a man who rushed to the Queen’s coffin in Westminster Hall on Friday evening.

A major concern is the potential for injuries caused by crushing people. Some stations on the London Underground system will be designated as “entrance only” or “exit only” to keep flow in check, and Transport for London is prepared to close stations if there are too many people.

President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden are among nearly 500 foreign dignitaries, including at least 70 heads of government confirmed as of Friday, and will arrive in London to pay tribute to the country’s longest-serving monarch.

Japan’s Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako plan to be there, along with about two dozen kings, queens, princes and princesses – from Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, among others. French President Emmanuel Macron, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrive. So are New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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British officials sent invitations to the 200 or so countries with which the United Kingdom maintains full diplomatic relations. Delegations from Commonwealth countries can include up to 16 people, but almost all others are limited to the head of state and one guest. Some heads of state who cannot travel have appointed another senior official, a British government official closely involved in the planning said.

Some notable people who were not invited included Russian President Vladimir Putin and the President of Belarus because of their continued aggression in Ukraine. The leaders of some countries, including North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, were not invited, but their ambassadors were.

Almost all heads of government present will be transported by bus on Sunday evening to the funeral in Westminster Abbey and to a reception at Buckingham Palace. Several officials said it was easier to secure a handful of buses than it was for dozens of cars. But the leaders are not used to that.

“They chose to come. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event and protocol won’t be perfect,” said Kim Darroch, a former British ambassador to the United States. “Most of them will just suck it up and move on. This isn’t about them; this is about the queen. I think people will think reasonably about that.”

The Bidens are among the few leaders to receive a special exception to the rules. They will ride in the heavily armored US presidential limousine known as ‘the beast’. British officials said the decision was made on the basis of security assessments, not politics.

Hundreds of thousands of people have waited 7 hours or more to get the chance to walk past the Queen’s coffin lying in state at Westminster Hall – a glimpse lasting about 30 seconds.

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As many as 2 million people are expected to gather in the city center on Monday to watch her coffin pass by and the royal family walking behind it.

“There is a very conscious desire that people feel that this opportunity is for everyone,” said Will Tanner, who was deputy head of policy at 10 Downing Street under former Prime Minister Theresa May. “This isn’t just an official ceremony behind closed doors, it’s for everyone to be a part of and enjoy.”

The public gets several chances to see the royal family walking behind the queen’s coffin.

The first will be with a short procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Abbey for the funeral. After the service, the coffin will be moved in a 45-minute procession from the church to Wellington Arch on the corner of Hyde Park, where it will be transferred to a hearse for the 40-mile drive to Windsor Castle, west of London.

There will also be a third procession in Windsor – a half hour walk from the car to St George’s Chapel where she will be buried.

Each time, King Charles III and Princes William and Harry, as well as other senior members of the British Royal Family, will carry the Queen’s casket behind a 123-year-old horse-drawn carriage dating from the reign of Queen Victoria.

“Security and ceremony are not happy bedfellows,” Bob Broadhurst – the top police commander at Prince William and Catherine’s wedding and ahead of the 2012 London Olympics – told reporters this week.

“You have to manage security in a way that fits the dignity of the occasion, but without putting anyone at greater risk than necessary,” he said.

British officials said their approach to security was different from the US approach.

“The American model is you put them in a bubble, a safe bubble, where no one can get close, you put them in armored vehicles,” Broadhurst said.

The royal family will step out, he said. “And that crowd of how many millions of people who will be on the streets has not been searched and cannot be searched. It’s absolutely terrifying. Everyone will be on their guard.”

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Darroch, who is also a former British national security adviser, said the British could be a bit more open than the Americans, in part because of the vastly different gun cultures in the UK and the United States.

“Your security approach starts with the fact that so many Americans seem to carry guns,” he said. “It’s almost impossible to get a gun in this country. It makes a huge difference.”

He noted that there are still plenty of threats and ways to wreak havoc and violence. For example, Lord Mountbatten, the great-uncle of King Charles III, was killed by a bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army in 1979.

Most British police do not carry weapons, but specialist armed units will be on hand on Monday.

Several officials said it is important for the royal family to remain physically close to the public at a time when an increasing number of people, especially younger generations, view the monarchy as an irrelevant relic.

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“They are essentially paid by the taxpayer,” Darroch said. “If they were locked up behind bulletproof glass, people wouldn’t like it and it would hurt their popularity. They have to be reachable.”

The cost of the Queen’s funeral security operation is staggering and involves so many different agencies that there is no reliable count. But officials said the cost was far greater than anything else they’ve ever undertaken.

Security costs when Queen Elizabeth’s mother died in 2002 exceeded $5 million. Security cost more than $7 million for Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding. But those events were relatively small in scope and didn’t involve dozens of world leaders. The funeral of Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, took place last year within the constraints of a coronavirus lockdown.

Particularly among those who are not fans of the monarchy, there has been some doubt about the taxpayer’s bill as the royal family is wealthy and many Britons suffer economically from high inflation and rising energy bills.

Some people have expressed annoyance at traffic disruptions and school and store closures across the country. At least three Premier League football matches have been postponed because not enough agents will be available to provide security at those events.

But most of the people interviewed said the cost was worth it.

“I guarantee the vast majority of the British people will want this to be an impressive and flawless event with the eyes of the world on London,” said Darroch. “They won’t be the least bit interested in what it costs — curious maybe, but not resentful.”

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Paul Daniels, 63, who drives an electric version of the iconic black cabs, said he doesn’t care what the cost is – and the country will get billions more back in future tourism.

“Everyone around the world will watch, and many will want to spend their holidays here after what they’ve seen,” he said. “But it’s not just the tourist money. She deserved a good goodbye and seeing it makes us all feel good. There’s nothing like a British royal funeral. The precision! The pageantry!”

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