The Daily Telegraph

Protocol pushes Biden down pecking order in the abbey

US president relegated to seat at the rear as Commonweal­th leaders and European royalty take place at forefront of service

- By Robert Mendick Chief Reporter

‘A lot of great conversati­ons can happen on a bus’

‘On this side of the pond, the world order can sometimes turn upside down’

AS THE most powerful man on the planet, Joe Biden is normally front and centre of any gathering of world leaders. Not so when it comes to British royal decorum.

The US president and first lady were relegated to Westminste­r Abbey’s rear seats, assigned a pew seven rows from the back of the abbey’s south transept.

Protocols dictate that, at Queen Elizabeth II’S funeral, Commonweal­th political leaders outrank those from the rest of the world, regardless of their importance.

And so it was that President Biden found himself 14 rows from the front and nine behind Justin Trudeau, prime minister of Canada, the neighbour that America normally looks down upon.

On this side of the pond, the world order can sometimes turn upside down.

There were other awkward encounters. Spain was abuzz that its disgraced former king, Juan Carlos – a distant cousin of the late Queen – had not only been invited but was seated next to his son, King Felipe. It was the first time that the men had been photograph­ed together in public since the old king went into exile.

Mr Biden, 79, sat in an aisle seat behind Andrzej Duda, the Polish leader, and one row in front of Petr Fiala, the prime minister of the Czech Republic. Jill Biden, America’s first lady, could enjoy the company of Ignazio Cassis, the president of Switzerlan­d, who sat to her left for the hour-long service.

Across the aisle from Mr Biden was Yoon Suk-yeol, South Korea’s head of state, while two rows further ahead in the pecking order sat Emmanuel Macron, the French president.

The seating arrangemen­ts were overseen by the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, who was in charge of the state

‘Television cameras soon revealed that the disparate members of the Spanish royal family had been placed on the same pew’

funeral’s occasional­ly difficult issues of protocol. The Foreign Office, when asked yesterday what input it had had into the seating plan, referred all calls to Buckingham Palace.

With 2,200 guests packed into Westminste­r Abbey, the state funeral was always going to throw up potential difficulti­es. Just under a quarter of those invited – in the region of 500 people – were overseas heads of state or foreign dignitarie­s.

In accordance with protocol, the governors-general of the realms that retain the monarch as their head of state, were seated first with elected Commonweal­th leaders behind them. That meant sitting President Biden some distance back, behind the new King.

On the same row as the US president, but on the other side of the aisle, sat Wang Qishan, China’s vice-president and the country’s representa­tive at the funeral. He was distinguis­hable by the face mask he wore as he walked into the abbey and which he kept on during the service.

Typically too, the US president is the last to arrive at any major function, the rest of the world kept waiting for him to show up. However, Mr Biden arrived just after 10am yesterday, an hour before the service began and sat waiting with his wife without security detail.

The Bidens arrived at the abbey a little later than planned. World leaders were supposed to be seated in a 20-minute window between 9.35am and 9.55am. But the Bidens arrived 10 minutes after the cut-off and rather than being shown straight to their seats were forced to wait while a procession of George and Victoria Cross-holders went ahead of them. Only once they had passed could the president and first lady enter the abbey.

He had been granted the right to eschew the coaches that brought other world leaders to the funeral and travel instead to the abbey in “The Beast” – the heavily armour-plated limousine that was flown over especially for the occasion. The car travelled slowly down Oxford Street, en route to the funeral.

In contrast to President Biden’s chair at the back, all seven surviving British prime ministers attended the funeral and were seated prominentl­y. They also brought their spouses. Queen Elizabeth’s reign spanned 15 prime ministers, the first of whom was Winston Churchill and the last Liz Truss.

There was seemingly a protocol to the coaches, too. Mr Trudeau had also requested his own car, but that was turned down. “A lot of great conversati­ons can happen on a bus,” he said later.

Those world leaders arriving for the buses, held waiting for them at the Royal Chelsea Hospital, did so in style.

Germany’s President Frank-walter Steinmeier was dropped off in a black

BMW with the number plate GER 1, while Anthony Albanese, the prime minister of Australia, chose a Jaguar. Sergio Mattarella, the president of Italy, was dropped off in a Maserati with the licence plate ITA 1.

In Westminste­r Abbey, the foreign royals sat opposite their British counterpar­ts with Europe’s longest-serving living monarch, Queen Margrethe of Denmark, at the front. King Abdullah of Jordan and his wife, Queen Rania, were seated two rows in front of the Gulf royals, who came without their wives.

Other foreign royals in the front pews included the King and Queen of Bhutan, who arrived with the Emperor and Empress of Japan aboard a royal bus.

King Felipe and Queen Letizia of Spain also travelled by bus, apparently avoiding the difficulti­es of an encounter with the king’s estranged and disgraced father, Juan Carlos, who fled Spain under suspicion of fraud two years ago.

Except that in the abbey, protocol seemingly dictated that King Felipe sit next to his father. Juan Carlos, who abdicated in 2014 after a series of scandals and publicised love affairs, and his wife, Sofía, arrived separately. But television cameras revealed that the disparate members of the Spanish royal family had been placed on the same pew.

Spain’s foreign minister, who also attended, was at pains to point out that Juan Carlos’s presence was “purely the result of a personal invitation”.

At the end of the state funeral, leaders of Commonweal­th realms moved on to Windsor and the slightly more intimate service at St George’s Chapel.

Protocol barred President Biden from attending. By the time the funeral cortege had reached Windsor, he was on his way back to the US. For a morning at least he had learnt what it’s like to be a minor figure on the world stage. Normal service will now resume.

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 ?? ?? British politician­s, including the current and past prime ministers, were seated prominentl­y in the abbey, below, while others attending included Justin Trudeau, right; the Emperor and Empress of Japan and King and Queen of Bhutan; Emmanuel Macron; former king Juan Carlos of Spain; King Felipe of Spain and King Abdullah of Jordan; President Biden and China’s Wang Qisha
British politician­s, including the current and past prime ministers, were seated prominentl­y in the abbey, below, while others attending included Justin Trudeau, right; the Emperor and Empress of Japan and King and Queen of Bhutan; Emmanuel Macron; former king Juan Carlos of Spain; King Felipe of Spain and King Abdullah of Jordan; President Biden and China’s Wang Qisha
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