Britain’s heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and Prince William took center stage at the opening of parliament on Tuesday, replacing the 96-year-old Queen Elizabeth who missed the grand set-piece event for the first time in almost six decades.
With the Queen forced to withdraw on Monday due to a recurrence of mobility issues, 73-year-old Charles arrived at the Palace of Westminster to read out the government’s legislative agenda.
Charles, who had attended the opening of parliament alongside his mother in recent years, started reading out each bill by saying: “Her majesty’s government will….”
Prior to the event taking place there was a mixture of confusion among those sitting in the Chamber of the House of Lords as to whether or not Charles would sit beside a ceremonial throne or stand in front of it. When he arrived and sat on the throne there was audible surprise among those watching in person.
The program for the day presented to those who had tickets to sit in the House of Lords had not been updated to reflect the fact that the Queen would not be attending herself, leaving some uncertainty as to exactly how the day’s events would unfold.
The State Opening of Parliament is an event of huge pomp and pageantry which traditionally sees the queen traveling to the assembly in a State Coach, escorted by mounted soldiers in ceremonial uniform, while the Imperial State Crown and other regalia travel ahead in a carriage of their own.
The monarch dons the Robe of State before leading a procession to the House of Lords upper chamber where she sits on a throne and formally opens a new session of parliament, reading a speech written by the government outlining its legislative plans.
The queen has missed the occasion only twice during her 70-year reign – in 1959, and 1963, when she was pregnant with sons Andrew and Edward.
The queen, who has missed a number of public engagements since she was hospitalized for a night last October for an unspecified illness, had to issue a ‘Letters Patent’ to authorize Charles and William to carry out her role at the constitutional event.
The event took place at a significant moment in British politics, as the fallout from the “Partygate” scandal continues to haunt Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Leader of the opposition, Keir Starmer, said on Monday that if he is fined by police – who are investigating whether or not he broke Covid rules at an election campaigning event – he will resign. Johnson has already been issued with such a fine, a so-called fixed-penalty notice, which he has accepted and paid. Starmer’s intervention has therefore raised serious questions as to whether or not Johnson should resign as Prime Minister.
Traditionally, the leaders of the government and opposition use the Queen’s Speech as a time to put their differences aside and chat amicably as they walk from the House of Commons to the House of Lords. However, Starmer and Johnson had their eyes firmly fixed ahead and exchanged few – if any – words.