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LONDON – Downing Street has backtracked after leaked government instructions to world leaders traveling to Queen Elizabeth’s funeral required them to ditch their official cars and arrive by coach.
Official documents released to embassies overseas and obtained by POLITICO on Sunday said world leaders “will be asked” to leave their personal vehicles at a location west of London on Sept. 19 and attend the carriage funeral. common. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) blamed “severe security and road restrictions” for the move.
On Monday, the prime minister’s official spokesman confirmed that the UK government – rather than Buckingham Palace – is taking the lead on logistical arrangements, but declined to comment on specific details “on operational security arrangements”.
But asked if US President Joe Biden would indeed be expected to arrive at Westminster Abbey in a coach, the spokesman said it would be left to the US leader to decide.
“I think that would be a question for the US and how they prefer the president to travel,” he said.
“I would say that the arrangements for leaders, including how they travel, will vary depending on individual circumstances. And the instructions and information provided are instructions.”
The private document sent to embassies on Saturday evening was however unclear. “Overseas representatives invited to attend the state funeral will be required to travel by coach escorted via [a location in west London]where their vehicles can wait,” she said.
The document also advised world leaders to take commercial flights to the UK where possible, but said private jets could be used if they arrived at London’s less busy airports.
Earlier on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said he would ignore the instructions and attend the funeral on his official jet.
“I’m traveling this Thursday night from Australia,” Albanese told ABC Breakfast. “These plans have existed for a long period of time, long before I became prime minister.”
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles told ABC Radio National that it would not be “reasonable” for a world leader like Albania to take a commercial flight despite the FCDO’s advice.
Marles, who also serves as Australia’s defense minister, said security was the “primary consideration”.
“There are real issues with having prime ministers on commercial planes in terms of the safety of the public that is also on those planes. So we have to be reasonable about it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the list of confirmed guests continues to grow for a diplomatic event with few parallels in recent times. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Irish Prime Minister Micheál Martin and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol confirmed their attendance on Monday.
Leaders including US President Joe Biden, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had already done so last week.
Also likely to attend the funeral are Japanese Emperor Naruhito, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron, among many others.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has yet to confirm whether he will travel to London. There is still no word from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will leave China this week for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began to attend a summit in Central Asia.