Foreign leaders ‘to be bussed to Queen’s funeral as private jets and helicopters banned’

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Foreign heads of state and their partners attending the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II have been asked to arrive in the UK on commercial flights and have been banned from using helicopters to move around the capital.

In addition, they have been told they will not be able to use their own official cars to attend the funeral, scheduled for Monday 19 September, but will instead be bussed to Westminster Abbey from a site in west London en masse, Politico reports.

Official documents obtained by the outlet circulated to embassies on Saturday also confirmed that only the heads of state and their partner from each country have been invited.

The official capacity of Westminster Abbey is 2,200 people, and it is expected to be full to the point that having more than one senior representative for each nation plus a spouse would be untenable.

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office said in the protocol document that it “regrets that, because of limited space at the state funeral service and associated events, no other members of the principal guest’s family, staff or entourage may be admitted”.

Those heads of state unable to attend are asked to choose another representative such as a head of government or senior minister.

King Charles III will host a reception for overseas leaders at Buckingham Palace on Sunday 18 September, the evening before the funeral.

In addition, heads of state are invited to attend the lying-in-state of the queen’s body, and sign the condolence book at Lancaster House immediately afterward.

While at Lancaster House, they will also be able to deliver a tribute to the late queen of up to three minutes, which will be recorded for the media.

On the day of the funeral, there will be tight security and road restrictions across much of central London and therefore heads of state have been told to meet at a site in west London from where they will be escorted to the abbey in coaches.

After the service, foreign leaders are invited to attend a reception hosted by Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at Dean’s Yard, within the grounds of the abbey, to which they will be escorted on foot.

They will then be returned to the site in west London by coach to collect their cars.

“Multiple and comprehensive layers of security will be in place across London and at all the official venues used for the state funeral and associated events,” another FCDO document states that details logistics for those traveling from overseas.

It further warns that“because of the extensive ceremonial programme related to the state funeral and the logistical challenges, requests for bilaterals will not be considered on this occasion,” in line with the rules of the government’s mourning period.

There is also a warning that where possible foreign leaders should arrive in the UK on commercial flights as there will be no arrangements made for private aircraft at London’s Heathrow Airport.

Instead, it is recommended that planes are routed to less busy airports around the capital. The document also warns that the use of helicopters to transfer from airports to other venues is banned due to the expected congestion in the region’s airspace — notably there is also a warning that “unforeseen events may require commercial and private flights to divert from the intended airport of arrival”.

The reports of the protocol information from the FCDO come shortly after the White House confirmed that President Joe Biden has officially accepted an invitation to the state funeral and will be attending with first lady Jill Biden.

There has been much speculation as to whether there might be a more sizeable US delegation similar to that at the funeral of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in December 2013.

On that occasion, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were joined by former president George W Bush and his wife, Laura; Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state; and several senior White House advisers. Former President Jimmy Carter also attended the funeral.

Others who joined them were the attorney general, Eric Holder, national security adviser Susan Rice and economics adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, travelled separately. Beyond that, two dozen US lawmakers also flew out to South Africa.

Judging by the tone of the FCDO document, such a large delegation seems highly unlikely for the Queen’s funeral — though this is not yet confirmed — but it does neatly sidestep the looming question of whether former presidents including Donald Trump would be able to go and the potential awkwardness of having two such bitter political rivals in attendance.

The Bidens would likely arrive on Air Force One, as the aircraft can land at RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.

Despite its status as a Royal Air Force base, it primarily supports United States Air Force operations and is currently the home of the 100th Air Refueling Wing.