Twitter is swirling with rumours the Queen has died (she hasn’t), but what happens when she does?
Unsurprisingly, there are strict protocols that must be followed.
Rumours that Queen Elizabeth II has passed away crop up almost every other day at this stage, and have done pretty much since last November when she missed a public appearance following an overnight stay in a London hospital. Palace officials decided to withhold details of her visit in order to downplay the situation, but actually created more of a problem in doing so and only fuelled reports that Her Majesty had died.
A couple of months later and new claims that the Queen has died have now emerged, these ones propagated by Hollywood Unlocked founder Jason Lee, who shared an Instagram post yesterday reporting that the 95-year-old had been “found dead”. “Sources close to the Royal Palace notified us exclusively that #QueenElizabeth has passed away,” he wrote on social media. “She was scheduled to attend the wedding of British Vogue editor Edward Enninful, but was found dead. Story developing.”
Naturally, the internet has approached the “news” with caution, especially given the fact that the Palace has yet to say anything on the matter. However, the Queen is currently sick with Covid, so the story spread like wildfire online with many taking it at face value. Doubling down on his claims, Lee then took to Twitter to defend the story, writing “we don’t post lies and I always stand by my sources. Waiting for an official statement from the Palace.”
We don’t post lies and I always stand by my sources. Waiting for an official statement from the palace.
— Jason Lee (@theonlyjasonlee) February 22, 2022
The Queen tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday, but aides have since said that her symptoms are “mild” and that she “expects to continue with light duties at Windsor over the coming weeks”. Dayo Okewale, chief of staff in the House of Lords, also tweeted to say that the story lacked any credible sources and was categorically “false”.
That said, the claims have sparked a conversation about what will happen when Her Majesty – the longest-reigning monarch – does eventually pass away, and it turns out that there is quite a rigorous system in place. According to The Guardian, many different plans exist for the Queen’s death – all held by Buckingham Palace, the government and the BBC.
These plans, codenamed Operation London Bridge, were obtained in full by Politico and detail exactly what will happen when the Queen dies and while there is no suggestion that these plans have been revisited with any urgency, they were amended to include discussion of the coronavirus pandemic.
Once the Queen has passed, Operation London Bridge begins. In the hours after the Queen’s death, a “call cascade” will take place informing the prime minister, the cabinet secretary (Britain’s highest-ranking civil servant) and a number of the most senior ministers and officials. Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary and a former diplomat who was given a second knighthood in 2014 will be the first official to deal with the news. Geidt will inform the PM, and will also tell the Privy Council Office, which coordinates government work on behalf of the monarch. The day will be referred to as “D-Day” internally, with each following day leading up to the funeral referred to as “D+1”, “D+2” etc.
The royal household will then issue an official bulleting announcement delivering the news to the public. Ministers and senior civil servants will be notified of the news via email. Flags across Whitehall will be lowered to half-mast – ideally within 10 minutes of receiving the news.
UK parliament and the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will adjourn. If parliament is not sitting, it will be recalled, according to Politico.
The royal family’s official website will change over to a black holding page with a short statement confirming the queen’s death, while the UK government website will display a black banner at the top. All government departmental social media pages will also show a black banner and change their profile pictures to their departmental crest. Non-urgent content must not be published. Retweets are explicitly banned unless cleared by the central government head of communications.
An announcement will go out first to the global news agency Press Association and the rest of the world’s media simultaneously. As is tradition, a footman wearing mourning clothes will walk out of Buckingham Palace and pin a black-edged notice to the gates.
A radio alert transmission system, commonly known as “Rats” – a cold war-era alarm designed to withstand an attack on the nation’s infrastructure – will be activated. All stations have pre-prepared playlists of sad music to play, with BBC radio producer Chris Price once saying, “If you ever hear “Haunted Dancehall (Nursery Remix)” by Sabres of Paradise on daytime Radio 1, turn the TV on. Something terrible has just happened.”
The news will be disseminated via the main TV channels first, with all BBC channel programmes being paused to show the BBC One feed. Newsreaders will be expected to wear black suits and ties which they keep on standby with them at all times. Pilots are also expected to announce the death during their flights and all comedy TV shows will be postponed until after her funeral.
Most news publications have obituaries already prepared which will be published upon confirmation of Her Majesty’s passing.
The Prince of Wales will become the new King following Her Majesty’s death and will address the nation at 6 pm sharp on the evening of her passing. The Duchess of Cornwall will become Queen Camilla.
If Charles decides to keep his name – royals can pick another name of their choosing when ascending to the throne – he will be known as King Charles III. Prince William, who is the current Duke of Cambridge, will then become the Prince of Wales.
The Queen’s death will be followed by a 12-day mourning period, during which time her body will be moved to Buckingham Palace and preparations will be made for the state funeral. The Archbishop of Canterbury will be in charge of funeral proceedings.
The royal family will announce details of the Queen’s funeral which will be held 10 days following her death and is likely to be held at Westminster Abbey with a procession in both London and Windsor. The PM will be the first member of government to make a statement, with all other ministers instructed not to comment until after he has done so. Gun salutes will take place at all saluting stations and a national two-minute silence will be organised.
Her Majesty’s coffin will remain in Westminster Hall for four days, where the public can pay their respects – dependant on Covid regulations at the time. Her body will be laid to rest in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle where both the Queen Mother and King George VI are also buried.
The queen’s funeral and Charles’ coronation will become national holidays.