London (AFP) - A warning by Queen Elizabeth II against "division" in Europe as Prime Minister David Cameron plans a referendum on Britain's EU membership was interpreted by some British media on Thursday as a political statement.
While Buckingham Palace insisted that the sovereign was politically neutral, newspapers were busy trying to read between the lines of her speech.
"We know that division in Europe is dangerous and that we must guard against it in the west as well as in the east of our continent," the monarch said at a state banquet in Germany on Wednesday, according to a copy of her speech on the monarchy's website.
"That remains a common endeavour," the 89-year-old said.
The speech, which focused on historical references to the lessons of World War II, the fall of the Berlin Wall and German re-unification, was also a strong defence of Britain's role in Europe.
"The United Kingdom has always been closely involved in its continent. Even when our main focus was elsewhere in the world, our people played a key part in Europe," the queen said.
British newspapers were quick to express their surprise on Thursday, the same day that Cameron is due to address European Union leaders in Brussels on Britain's desire for a looser association with the EU bloc.
"The Queen hints at desire for Britain to remain in European Union," read a headline in The Guardian.
The article said the speech "was replete with some subtle and other not so subtle hints that she believed Britain belonged in the European Union -â her most public stance yet that she wished to avoid Britain voting to leave in a referendum".
The Daily Telegraph said "the Queen's comments may be interpreted by some as the sovereign expressing a view on the EU debate".
A headline in The Independent read: "Queen issues unexpected warning as EU leaders meet in Brussels for key summit".
The queen has a strictly impartial role as head of state and rarely makes any public statement that could be interpreted as relating to current political events.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman insisted: "The Queen's speech speaks for itself on the threats of division and the benefits of unity.
"As ever, the Queen is above politics and is politically neutral on the EU."
Asked whether the sovereign had taken advice from Downing Street on the content of her speech, as is usually the case for such events, Cameron's spokeswoman said: "It was a speech made by the Queen at a state banquet.
"You would expect us to have followed the normal process as we would for speeches made by the Queen at banquets around the world."